Local officials and others are going all out to ensure that Blacks, other people of color and immigrants in Minnesota are fully counted in the 2010 U.S. Census. “We’re trying,” said U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves in an interview prior to his appearance at a February 18 rally at the Midtown Global Market in South Minneapolis.
Groves added that it’s important to have people from their own communities visiting households that do not return Census forms to take a count in person. “That process goes much more efficiently if the people doing that are from the neighborhood that they are working in,” he said. “It makes more sense… They are received as one of them because they look like them and they know them.”
When asked about existing concerns among communities of color on sharing personal data, Groves reaffirmed that there is a “strong confidentiality law” that prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing information with anyone, including other federal agencies and law enforcement offices.
“The [U.S.] President can request your Census form from me, and I can say, ‘You can’t have it,’ and the courts will uphold that decision,” Groves noted. “People need to believe that.”
Nonetheless, a “historical and institutional distrust” is still present among some Blacks and among African immigrants as well, U.S. Representative Keith Ellison pointed out. “The fear is that they don’t want the federal government in their lives,” said the congressman, adding that he recently met with local Somali residents to answer Census questions.
“I think it is good to know that even if you don’t like or trust the federal government,” Groves said, “you don’t gain anything by not participating [in the Census]. The only way to benefit from the Census is by participating in the Census.”
The 10-question Census form “is the easiest in our lifetimes” to complete, the Census director believes. “We don’t ask for income or Social Security number. We don’t ask all the things people are worried about telling folks about.”
Groves also pointed out that his office is conducting “a massive campaign” to recruit bilingual persons as Census workers. At least 4,000 workers are being recruited, he said.
However, the Stairstep Foundation’s Arnetta Kaba-Phillips, who says she has worked with hundreds of Blacks since last October preparing them to take the required census employment test, expressed her concerns that many in her community aren’t getting hired. “The federal government is holding such a tight grip about who is getting these jobs,” Kaba-Phillips told Census Regional Director Dennis Johnson, who also was present at last week’s rally.
Asked if there is an emphasis on hiring Blacks and people of color, Johnson replied, “Most definitely. We know that our best chance of getting good, accurate information is to make sure our Census workers represent the community in which they live. We are hiring people block by block.”
Groves, Ellison, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak all spoke to an estimated 150 people at last week’s rally. Each strongly urged the crowd to not only fill out the one-page form, but also to encouraged their friends and neighbors to do the same.
The Census “is a lot more important than just counting a number,” said the mayor. “It is the thing that we use to measure exactly how much support we get in this city [and] what we need in this city. For every 100 [persons] in this entire city who are not counted by the Census and do not fill out the Census [form], that costs all of us $1 million in jobs, housing and schools that can be created.”
Rybak told the crowd that too many persons of color who live in Minneapolis were undercounted in the 2000 Census. “How many Latinos and Somalis are there in this city? I know that there are a lot,” he said, “but that is not enough. We will know in this Census.”
“If you don’t get counted,” reaffirmed Ellison, “it takes money and resources away from all of us.”
Beginning in mid-March, at least 94 “Be Counted” assistance centers will be set up in several public libraries and community centers throughout Minneapolis for one month, Johnson announced. These locations will be opened from March 19 to April 19 “in various places where people congregate and feel safe,” he explained. “It’s to catch the folk that for whatever reason did not have a questionnaire to fill out at their home.”
Groves, Ellison and Rybak also recognized many local persons who actively have worked on behalf of the Census. Dorothy Robinson, Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council vice president, said at least 75 percent of the senior residents she works with are people of color. “They feel comfortable about it because they know that if they don’t fill it out, they will lose something instead of gaining something.”
“Coming to an event like this enlightens me,” claimed Brinkley Hayden of South Minneapolis. But “they would have had a better turnout” if it was better publicized, she added.
“I think we are going to probably have one of the best turnouts ever,” said Roger Brown of the Council on Black Minnesotans and a member of the state’s Complete Count Committee that promotes the 2010 Census in their respective ethnic communities.
Afterwards, Groves said he was impressed with the rally: “The audience was very heartwarming.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.