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The Voice of the Black Community

Local & State

Counting on ties for census accuracy
Partnerships spread word to marginalized
Published Wednesday, April 3, 2019 12:14 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Coalitions are building across Mecklenburg County ahead of the 2020 Census to reach out to historically undercounted communities, such as African Americans and immigrants.

Counting Mecklenburg County’s residents impacts the bottom line.

Political, business and nonprofit leaders are banding together on a local initiative to provide a more accurate headcount, especially in traditionally difficult to engage communities, in the run-up to the 2020 census. Mecklenburg County and the NC Counts Coalition launched Meck Counts 2020, an outreach and engagement effort. At stake is political representation as well as billions of dollars in federal funding tied to data from the decennial population enumeration.

“An accurate count of all residents is critical for receiving our fair share of federal funds for essential programs that cover education, housing, health care, economic development and transportation,” county commissioners Chair George Dunlap said Monday at the initiative’s launch.

Getting everyone counted, though, is historically problematic. Undercounts in marginalized communities such as the homeless, immigrant groups and people of color mean less money for programs that would benefit them. As a result, Dunlap and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles announced the establishment of a 2020 Census Complete Count Committee to work with local stakeholders to educate residents about the Census and encourage their participation.

Some of the most common reasons for nonparticipation or inaccurate reporting are fear or misinformation about privacy and confidentiality, language barriers, not understanding the census’ purpose or who should be counted, such as young children or non-citizens, and unstable living arrangements.

“The committee will be charged with figuring out what we need to do in each and every community to make sure people get counted,” Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said. “One of the things we’re really interested in doing is [asking] who are the ambassadors in these communities and creating an ambassador program that will come from these various communities that can be the champion for the census in these communities.”

For the first time, households will be able to respond to the census online or by phone in addition to a paper questionnaire. Most households will receive a postcard encouraging them to respond online.

Mitigating an undercount is difficult in sprawling Mecklenburg, which has more than 1 million residents and is the state’s most populous and urban county. One in 10 North Carolinians (population 1.38 million) live in Mecklenburg.

“As one of the nation’s fastest-growing states, North Carolina has too much at stake to risk an inaccurate 2020 census,” said  Stacy Carless, executive director of the NC Counts Coalition. “The census directly impacts the allocation of $16.3 billion annually in federal resources to our state. That breaks down to about $16,000 per person over a 10-year period.”

Adding to the challenge is a proposed citizenship question on the survey that could have a chilling effect on undocumented immigrants. A coalition of states, local jurisdictions and the U.S. Conference of Mayors sued the Trump administration to block implementation of the question.

“When North Carolinians pay their federal taxes this month, they appropriately expect that they’ll see a fair share of their dollars spent in North Carolina,” said state Attorney General Josh Stein, who joined in filing a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court to block the question. “An accurate census would do just that – it would make sure that North Carolina’s roads and schools are funded at the level that corresponds with the number of people living here. It also would ensure that we get all the representatives we are entitled to.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a population count be conducted every 10 years.

In fiscal year 2016, North Carolina received $23.7 billion through 55 federal spending programs guided by data derived from the 2010 census. More than $883 billion was allocated nationally.

“North Carolina does face challenges in achieving a complete and accurate decennial census count,” Carless said, noting that there are an estimated 950,000 people from “hard to count communities” across the state – enough to populate another congressional district.  

The Census Bureau is also recruiting for 5,000 jobs temporary jobs in North Carolina, 1,800 of them in Mecklenburg. Positions include census takers, recruiting assistants, office staff and supervisory staff. Job details are available at www.2020census.gov/jobs.  

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