A critical piece of mail – the U.S. Census survey – started showing up in mailboxes in Memphis and throughout the nation earlier this month. While the primary purpose is to determine how many people live in the United States, its value surpasses a headcount.
The decennial census determines how legislative districts are drawn, how voting power is distributed and how federal funds will be allocated and invested. As the designated Census Day (April 1) inched closer, the NAACP and other advocacy organizations launched “Black Census Week” to engage African Americans around the critical survey.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) prompted the federal government to extend the deadline to respond to the census to August 15. Black Census Week, which began Monday and ends Sunday (March 29), has featured a social media campaign and myriad events and initiatives aimed at providing African Americans with the information needed to complete the 2020 Census survey.
Historically, African Americans particularly have been undercounted in the census. An estimated two percent of African Americans were unaccounted for in 2010, according to reports from the Statistical Studies Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. In Memphis, that number was 1.42 percent.
In addition to the NAACP’s efforts, local organizations such as the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals (MULYP) began hosting events focused on census awareness earlier this year.
“What we found out when hosting these events was that many people didn’t understand just how important the census survey is, especially for African Americans,” MULYP President Joshua Perkins said. “We knew we had work to do by providing them with as many resources as possible so that they could fill out the survey in its entirety.”
Everyone living in the United States and its five territories is required by law to fill out the census surveys. The undercount usually happens in communities of color because those populations tend to be a bit more transient and hard to find.
Compounding the difficulty is that the 2020 census is underfunded. Reports show that there will be 200,000 fewer census workers knocking on doors than in 2010. NAACP leaders and others believe that mix of factors increase the chances that some residents will have no knowledge of the survey or its deadline.
The response was to take action.
In January, the NAACP – in association with Prince George’s County, Md., the Prince George’s County Branch NAACP and two county residents – reinstated a lawsuit against the federal government. The legal maneuver seeks to combat what is viewed as an imminent threat that the 2020 Census will substantially undercount African Americans and other people of color.
Accurate-count advocates are concerned that the mounting worries posed by the novel coronavirus will make the census survey less of a priority for some residents.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has called into question how we as a nation ensure that the 2020 Census counts all persons living in the States so that we can continue as a Democracy,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP president/CEO, said in an official press release.
“This moment in history requires all of us to face this health crisis and ensure that all communities, especially those systematically left behind, are included. The NAACP is focused on pushing forward to provide a complete Census count now more than ever.”
Johnson and supporters are hoping that Black Census Week will yield positive results and encourage more census participation among African Americans.
“We need to make sure that this census is accurate and everyone is counted,” Perkins said. “That way we can receive the resources needed for our communities.”
The Black Census Week campaign includes celebrity influencer promotional videos and webinars featuring elected officials from across the country. Interested individuals can join the webinars by registering in advance on the NAACP’s website.