WASHINGTON — The 2020 U.S. census count officially kicked off Tuesday in Southwest Alaska. Activists on Tuesday questioned whether it will once again undercount racial minorities, which means the groups lose out in allocation of federal funding and electoral power.
In 2010, the census undercounted 2.1 percent of the black population, 1.5 percent of Hispanics and 4.9 percent of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples. Many predict similar trends in 2020. The Urban Institute found that, due to a lack of preparation and funding, census workers could undercount up to 4 million minority individuals this year.
Speaking at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on the National Day of Racial Healing, K. Saheel Rahman, president of the liberal think tank Demos, said excluding some minorities from being counted is a form of racism.
“We have a democracy that has been historically built to systematically exclude black and brown folks from political power.” Rahman said. “That’s not a democracy. One of the key ways that we make it a democracy is through things like the census.”
Baratunde Thurston, a comedian and former supervisor at The Daily Show, said efforts to ensure a fair count are mostly centered around raising awareness of its importance — using social media to encourage people to get counted and volunteer as census workers. Advocacy groups often work to curtail misinformation about the census, including by pressuring social media platforms to keep their sites accurate.
But census workers and activists are often thwarted in their efforts to get a full census count by language barriers and distrust among minority communities.
Sara Mora, an immigration activist and DACA recipient, said President Donald Trump’s attempt to include a citizenship question, which was struck down by the courts, has stoked fear among the Latino population and other minority groups.
Connie Brownotter, a Native American activist and community organizer who was raised on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, said another barrier is the lack of broadband internet access for many indigenous people, who were the most undercounted minority group in the 2010 census.. Many tribes that depend on the federal government for education and health care funding have not received payments because the government’s budget does not account for their real populations.
“I want us to be counted,” Brownotter said. “I want us to be seen. We are not invisible. In this society we are sometimes seen as these static figures in history that are still held back in time ,but we’re here and we’re alive and we’re thriving.”