Hiring Black Census Employees in California Could Avert an Undercount in 2020

The California Census Of­fice believes there will be high­er participation among African Americans during next year’s census if “trusted messengers” help get the word out and go door-to-door conducting pre-surveys, educating people and helping some fill out question­naires in Black communities.

Preparing for the 2020 Cen­sus, the U.S. Census Bureau is in the process of hiring about 500,000 workers across the country for the national count that will cost the federal gov­ernment a little over $15 bil­lion.

Tens of thousands of tem­porary federal employees will join the effort in California to assist with collecting data and reaching out to citizens on the internet, by phone and in per­son.

Pay is based on location and position. In larger cities like Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, salaries range anywhere from $17.00 to $30.00 per hour for field repre­sentative positions.

All applicants must be US citizens, although special ex­emptions have been made in the past for people with specific languages skills.

“This is really an opportu­nity for Black Californians to help make sure there isn’t a wrong assessment of our state’s population,” said Regina Wil­son, president of California Black Media. Her organization recently released a report titled “Counting Black California,” designed to help media publi­cations across the state micro-target hard-to-count popula­tions and expand the reach of their public education efforts around the census.

“Census counts have real impact on people’s lives,” said Wilson, “from our representa­tion in Congress to the amount of federal aid a neighborhood receives for programs like Head Start.”

The national Census, con­ducted every 10 years, is man­dated by the United States Constitution. It records criti­cal demographic information about residents of every state in the country and it is used to determine political representa­tion in the U. S. Congress, as well as provide important in­sights into the economy.

Some of the data the bureau collects are obtained using household surveys. The exer­cise produces statistics that de­scribe populations in detail by characteristics such as age, ed­ucation, housing, and income.

For the first time in history next year, the U.S. Census Bu­reau is requesting that the ma­jority of participants provide the answers to their Census questionnaires online.

A digital census could pose specific challenges to accurately counting Afri­can Americans. Even though smartphones and other mobile devices have helped to close the gap between Whites and Blacks with access to the in­ternet, only about 66 percent of African Americans own a computer or laptop at home, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.

Also, significant numbers of African Americans still do not have wireless or broadband internet connections at home.

More than one-third of California’s 2.2 million Black population lives in the Los Angeles area, where there is a large number of tracts the U.S. Census Bureau designates as “hard-to-count” because of inaccurate population totals in the past.

For the 2020 Census, Cali­fornia is investing near $180 million statewide through var­ious programs in an effort to make certain that residents of the state are informed about all aspects of the national survey.

“California is proud to be dedicating targeted funding and resources toward outreach to hard-to-count demographic populations across the state,” said Ditas Katague, director of California Complete Count – Census 2020.

Since the inception of the Census, Black communities have been routinely under­counted. The reasons for the inaccurate count in the last decennial, census researchers say, included the large number of Blacks who move frequent­ly; multigenerational fami­lies living in the same home; homes with multiple families sometimes living in different units at the same address that census workers may not rec­ognize; teen single mothers; homelessness; high rates of incarceration; and a general reluctance to participate based on inadequate information.

While the margins of un­counted Blacks seem to de­crease after every 10 years, the last decennial in 2010 still undercounted the Black popu­lation by close to 800,000 people.

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