On July 23, the Congressional Black Caucus launched a new taskforce that will focus on the upcoming 2020 Census and the legacy of undercounting the African American community. The taskforce will be led by Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV).

According to a release, members of the CBC will meet with stakeholders and leading professionals to discuss the current state of play. The Caucus will also discuss the tools required for effective outreach to hard to count communities across the United States.

“This time around, we are facing a big question regarding how the census is going to be administered in 2020 under the Trump Administration,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “With the census becoming digital, can you imagine working families receiving a postcard telling them to go online to fill out their census form? Many Americans might not have access to a computer or broadband services.

“That is why the Black Caucus is taking the lead to begin the work now,” she continued. “Through this taskforce, and under Congressman Horsford’s leadership, the Black Caucus will meet with African American leaders from around the country to discuss the current state of play and the tools needed for effective outreach to hard to count communities. Our community must be counted.”

Every decade, the U.S. Constitution requires a census count of every resident in every household, and an accurate count is critical to the foundation of our democracy. Data gathered by the census is used to determine how many congressional seats and electoral college votes each state receives, as well as the drawing of federal, state, and local government legislative boundaries.

Furthermore, this data is also used to direct more than $800 billion annually in federal dollars to states and local communities that impact health care services, housing, schools, and economic development plans among other priorities.

There is a perennial concern about black households getting undercounted in the census. During the last count in 2010, African Americans were undercounted by over 800,000. Therefore, some African Americans may also live in communities where the political districts do not reflect their policy needs.

Moreover, undercounting African Americans in the 2020 census could have real consequences because “African-American children and families are disproportionately affected by poverty and federal programs designed to alleviate the impact of poverty.”

“The Constitution declares that we must count all persons in this country,” Horsford said. “The Trump administration has taken coordinated action specifically to discourage and frighten people away from participating in the 2020 census, and now we are fighting back.

“Undercounting urban communities like mine can result in an unfair distribution of congressional seats and deny communities of color, specifically Black communities, access to representation in Congress,” he added. “We only get one chance every ten years to get this right. Let’s make it count.”

The legacy of undercounting African Americans in the census dates to the first census count in 1790. During the writing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, delegates debated over the number of seats in the House of Representatives. In 1790, a compromise between the northern and southern states resulted in a decision for enslaved Africans to be counted as three-fifths of a person for Congressional representation and taxation.

African Americans are still undercounted in the census in current times. According to the Decennial Statistics Studies Division of the Department of Commerce, in 1990, the agency estimated “a net undercount of about 4 percent for African Americans.”

This number was lowered to “2 percent – around 800,000 people – in the 2000 Census, but the most recent Census in 2010 showed no significant change to the black undercount, despite the net undercount being the lowest it had been in history.”

Some of the federal programs impacted by census data include:

  • Head Start Program – A federal program that provides early childhood education to kids. African American children account for 29% of kids in this program for low-income families.[8]
  • Title I Grants – These grants provide federal resources to schools with high numbers of low-income children intended to help all students fulfill state academic requirements.[9]
  • Special Education Grants – Assists schools in meeting the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These grants are used to assist students with disabilities. In 2012-2013, approximately 15% of African American children needed IDEA resources.[10]
  • Child Care and Development Fund – This fund helps low-income parents access childcare so that they can go to work or school. African American children represented 41% of children in this program in 2015.[11]
  • SNAP – The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s most extensive domestic food assistance program, serving 42.1 million individuals each month. Around 26% of African Americans received SNAP benefits in 2015.[12]
  • National School Lunch Program – This program provides free or reduced-price meals to disadvantaged students.[13]
  • Section 8 Housing Program – A federal program that subsidizes the rents of low-income individuals to secure affordable housing. African Americans comprised 45% of the recipients in this program in 2010.[14]
  • Medicaid – A joint federal-state program that finances the delivery of primary and acute medical services to a diverse low-income population. An estimated 16 million African Americans enrolled in this program in 2012.[15]
  • Pell Grants – Data is used from the census to factor Pell grants for college.
  • Highway spending – Funding for national infrastructure is apportioned according to census data.
  • Small businesses – Data from the census helps small businesses in their competitiveness.
  • Large companies – Big businesses rely on census data for hiring and demographic data.
(Photo: Courtesy of NVPS.org)

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