The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Counting in the Gulf Coast: High Expectations; Local Frustration; Uncertain Outcome
Demographic and socio-economic conditions in Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states put them at high risk for an undercount even before Katrina disrupted so many lives and communities, and that risk fell disproportionately on minority communities. According to an analysis of 2000 census data by The Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), 41.5 percent of Blacks and nearly 30 percent of Asian Americans in Louisiana lived in hard-to-count areas in 2000, compared to 8.0 percent of Non-Hispanic Whites. In Mississippi, 36.6 percent of Blacks lived in hard-to-count areas, compared to 7.8 percent of Non-Hispanic Whites.11 In Texas, nearly half of the state's Hispanic population lived in hard-to-count areas. Hidalgo County and Cameron County, Texas, on the Mexican border, are the most populous of the state's counties with the highest percentages of population living in hard-to-count areas.12 As noted in The Education Fund's August 2009 report, Counting in the Wake of a Catastrophe report, "these racial and ethnic differences point to the potentially destructive impact of distorted, uneven counts on equality and economic opportunity, and the importance of efforts by the Census Bureau and its partner organizations to invest in reaching hard-to-count populations."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency designated 117 counties along the Gulf Coast as disaster areas in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The storm affected a wide area: residents of 31 parishes in Louisiana, 49 counties in Mississippi, and eight counties in Alabama were eligible for Individual Assistance.13 Low-lying counties closest to the Gulf of Mexico suffered the greatest damage and displacement of individuals and families. In New Orleans alone, 80 percent of the city was flooded, 107,000 occupied housing units were flooded and an additional 27,000 sustained wind damage.
In 2008, New Orleans was still a city in flux, with 21.4 percent of residents having moved in the previous year, compared to 15.6 percent nationally. The percentage of children living in poverty, 36.7 percent, was more than twice the national rate of 18.2 percent.14 Orleans Parish (City of New Orleans) grew by 18 percent between July 2007 and July 2009.
A review of the research on demographic and housing data in the Gulf Coast region for The Education Fund's 2009 report confirmed the particular nature of the challenges to an accurate 2010 count in the areas still recovering from Katrina:
- continued large numbers of people in temporary housing
- high rates of vacant housing units
- higher percentages of renter-occupied units relative to owner-occupied units
- significantly higher rates of households that were without phone service two full years after the storm
- difficulty in identifying informal housing arrangements and households in blighted areas
- an influx of people with low English proficiency, many of them undocumented migrant workers who are hard to reach (even family members with legal residence status may seek to avoid participation out of concern for undocumented relatives or friends who may be sharing living quarters)
Even some information that was evidence of good news for the region's ongoing recovery pointed to potential challenges for the Census Bureau:
Some of the hardest-hit communities were experiencing the highest population growth rates in the country.
Ongoing redevelopment, including rehabilitation of damaged properties and new large-scale projects, was creating significant growth in new housing units and population shifts within the region.
The Education Fund's report recognized that the Census Bureau was aware of the unique circumstances in the Gulf Coast region and had taken steps to help ensure an accurate count. Of particular note, the Census Bureau:
- Designated hardest-hit areas for questionnaire delivery by hand (Update/Leave operation) rather than by mail in March 2010, permitting census workers to update the master list − created during address canvassing operations in 2009 − in real time;
- Scheduled a high-visibility 2010 Census kick-off in New Orleans with local and national leaders;
- Put in place a partnership program and hired partnership staff; and
- Planned an extensive advertising campaign targeting both the general public and hard-to-count population groups.
In addition, Congress and the Obama administration included supplemental funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for the Census Bureau to invest in additional outreach to hard-to-count populations.
The Dallas Regional Census Office's decision to use an alternative questionnaire distribution method in areas that normally would receive census forms by mail recognized the inconsistency of mail delivery in many recovering neighborhoods and the state of flux of many housing units and neighborhoods, as residents and developers continued to rebuild and renovate. Census workers delivering questionnaires by hand could make real-time assessments of the likelihood that homes were habitable and occupied or uninhabitable as the census began. They also could identify structures without identifiable addresses, such as sheds, trailers, and garages, serving as temporary living quarters for displaced residents.
The Education Fund also expressed concern in its earlier report about coverage in the Spring 2009 address canvassing operation, due in part to reports from numerous community advocates in Mississippi, as well as observations by the Commerce Department's Inspector General, about the thoroughness of the operation in rural, poor, and predominantly African-American areas. It appears, however, that efforts by the Census Bureau and by local officials through the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program produced a reasonably accurate count of habitable housing units in Greater New Orleans. Through the LUCA feedback process, the Census Bureau reported roughly 204,000 New Orleans addresses that would be in the census universe, close to the number local experts estimated.15 New Orleans officials still challenged the final address list, urging the Census Bureau to restore 50,000 housing units that census workers had deleted from the master file during address canvassing. Census officials assured city leaders that its employees would actively search for homes missing from the address list as they hand-delivered questionnaires during the Update/Leave operation and visited neighborhoods again during Nonresponse Follow-up.
Local media − especially The Times-Picayune in New Orleans − featured numerous articles reminding the public about the importance of census participation and chronicling each operation in the months-long census process. Local advocacy groups, including Education Fund community partner Moving Forward Gulf Coast, Inc. (MFGC), enthusiastically supplemented the Census Bureau's communications campaign with creative outreach activities designed to encourage participation by hard-to-count populations, especially Black men, historically at risk of the highest disproportionate undercount rates in the census.16 MFGC combined in-person training and outreach activities with Internet-based promotion, such as videos featuring local sports icons. The organization hosted more than 30 educational and promotional events from late 2009 through the end of census field operations and produced video public service announcements with local residents in starring roles. Promotional materials from The Education Fund, including posters, palm cards, and T-shirts, helped to supplement the resources of community partners.
Despite the significant spotlight on the census, early participation in New Orleans was disappointing. In the Update/Leave operation, census workers delivered questionnaires in the first two weeks of March, before most American households received their forms by mail. Yet by April 1, only a quarter (26 percent) of the city's households had mailed back a form, far below the pace of return for the state as a whole (44 percent) and the nation (50 percent) at that point in time. While low-responding communities in the Mail-out/Mail-back universe received a first-time-ever replacement questionnaire in early April, addresses in Update/Leave areas did not get the second form, depriving these neighborhoods of the potential for a significant boost in mail response in the closing weeks of the count's first phase.
Even more troubling was the fact that community organizations received numerous reports from residents who did not receive questionnaires, a concern echoed by advocates in a number of Mississippi's hardest-to-count communities. For example, MFGC said that when the organization's volunteers canvassed the neighborhood during the mail-back phase to encourage participation, several hundred residents in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward reported not receiving census forms. In some rural Mississippi and Louisiana coastal communities, households that received their mail at a post office box did not receive questionnaires, which is routine under current census procedures but an anomaly unknown to local advocates.
As the mail portion of the census came to a close in late April, many Gulf Coast communities affected most severely by the 2005 hurricanes had posted participation rates below state and national averages and lower than their comparable 2000 census rates. Only 43 percent of households in Orleans Parish (City of New Orleans) mailed back a form, compared to 58 percent in 2000; in St. Bernard Parish, the mail-back rate dropped to 45 percent from 68 percent in 2000. Louisiana's Plaquemines and Jefferson Parishes were exceptions, with Plaquemines achieving a higher, though still anemic, mail response rate than in 2000 (56 percent versus 54 percent), and Jefferson far exceeding the state's 64 percent response with its 70 percent mail-back rate, although it did not surpass its 2000 benchmark of 71 percent. The three Mississippi coastal counties hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina all saw their participation rates decline from 2000: Hancock County, 54 percent in 2010 compared to 60 percent in 2000; Harrison County, 64 percent compared to 69 percent; and Jackson County, 67 percent compared to 71 percent. The coastal city of Biloxi, Mississippi, achieved a 60 percent mail-back rate, nine percentage points below its 2000 rate. The smaller coastal community of Bay St. Louis, which suffered significant storm damage in 2005, posted a participation rate of 49 percent.
The April 20, 2010, explosion and oil spill at the BP Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig added an unexpected layer of potential complexity to the second major phase of the census, Nonresponse Follow-up. Coming at the end of the mail phase of the count, as Local Census Offices began shifting their focus to the door-to-door visits that would start May 1, the spill and resulting social and economic upheaval in Louisiana's Gulf Coast dominated the news and diverted the attention of elected officials, civic leaders, and local residents, relegating the importance of all other issues − including the benefits of census participation to post-Katrina Greater New Orleans − to the back burner. The immediate economic consequences for many inhabitants threatened to further displace those people the Census Bureau might not yet have counted at their April 1 residence. The sudden drop or suspension of activity in several major economic sectors, such as the seafood, tourism, and oil industries, left many people scrambling to find alternative employment, perhaps outside of the region, putting at risk the Census Bureau's ability to locate everyone who lived in the area on April 1 but had not mailed back their census forms.
With a large portion of the area's households uncounted in the mail phase, nonprofit advocates continued to promote the census heavily during the door-to-door follow-up operation, relying on canvassing, Internet videos, and live radio broadcasts targeting the African-American population.
MFGC continued to hear reports from households that had not received a questionnaire or visit from an enumerator, leading the organization to post additional "ads" online highlighting the telephone response option. The group's executive director, Trupania Bonner, also expressed concern that many Black applicants for temporary census jobs were not hired, while residents in the Lower Ninth Ward and East New Orleans reported seeing many enumerators who clearly did not live in those neighborhoods. He speculated that high arrest rates among Black men in New Orleans may have shrunk the pool of eligible applicants considerably, in light of the Census Bureau's strict guidelines against hiring field staff with arrest records or convictions for all but minor traffic offenses.
Local immigrants rights advocates noted a lack of field staff capable of translating for and relating to non-English speaking residents, especially in the Latino and Vietnamese communities, in both Louisiana and Mississippi coastal communities. MFGC and several other Louisiana-based organizations joined The Education Fund and census partners from Mississippi and the Texas border region in asking Congress to examine obstacles to a full and accurate count in the Gulf Coast through a field hearing (see section on census operations in Mississippi for a fuller explanation of this request).
* * *
Nationally, participation rates in the 2010 census equaled those of the 2000 Census, when the Census Bureau stemmed a three-decade decline in response rates.17 However, the combined efforts of the Census Bureau and its partners were not enough to overcome all the obstacles in the Gulf Coast region during the first phase of the 2010 census: initial participation rates in the areas we address in this report were all below the national average, particularly so in the case of New Orleans, where the participation rate was only 43 percent, nearly 30 points below the national average. Nevertheless, mail-back rates in many hard-to-count neighborhoods where national and grassroots organizations had focused their efforts increased by five to 18 percentage points over the 2000 census, an indication that outreach activities were effective.18 During the field follow-up phase of the count, The Education Fund intensified its efforts to help community organizations work effectively with local and regional Census Bureau offices and achieve their goal of a complete enumeration in underserved communities.
We cannot know just how far the city of New Orleans and surrounding coastal communities have rebounded since the catastrophe of 2005, or how the region's demographic composition has changed, until the Census Bureau publishes 2010 census data for counties, cities, and neighborhoods in early 2011. (The 2010 data was released as this report went to press.) In an August 2010 interview with National Public Radio, Tulane University Professor of Public Health Mark VanLandingham estimated that the 2010 Census would show a population in the low 300,000s for New Orleans. That number would be "lower than what people have been anticipating," he told host Robert Siegel, noting that some current estimates are as high as 400,000.19 After completing the Nonresponse Follow-up operation, Dallas Regional Census Office officials speculated that the relatively low participation rates in New Orleans and surrounding parishes reflected a higher-than-expected vacancy rate in neighborhoods still in various stages of post-hurricane rebuilding, rather than a failure of residents to cooperate or of the Census Bureau to identify and enumerate all households.
Whatever the outcome, it is clear that community leaders and local officials took the importance of the 2010 Census to heart and made rigorous efforts to ensure the most accurate count possible despite unique and challenging conditions, both known and unexpected. Their determination and insights helped to shape the Census Bureau's approach to the enumeration in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast and attracted support from the philanthropic sector by highlighting the economic and political stakes for the region and instilling a sense of urgency during census preparations and operations among Census Bureau staff and area residents alike.
The 2010 Census will tell us a great deal about the pace of recovery in the Gulf Coast and will have significant implications for future development and ongoing progress, providing a foundation and road map for both public and private investment decisions. As we await the publication of detailed population counts in early 2011, which will allow for a more definitive evaluation of the 2010 census, The Education Fund and its partners are already looking toward the 2020 census and making recommendations based on their experiences over the past year. A set of recommendations from The Education Fund are included in the final chapter of this report.
11. O'Hare, William and Edwin Quiamboa, Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau Tract-Level Planning Database with Census 2000 Data, based on "hard to count" scores of 60 or higher, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, April 2009.
13. Federal Emergency Management Agency website section on 2005 disaster declarations. Accessed at www.fema.gov/news/disasters.fema?year=2005. See Katrina declarations for designated states and counties.
14. State of Metropolitan America: New Orleans, LA Metro Area fact sheet, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program analysis of Census 200, U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates Program, and 2008 American Community Survey data.
15. "Census tally of New Orleans addresses nearly matches locals' count," The Times-Picayune, December 15, 2009.
16. Other active local partners in Louisiana's Gulf Coast included Voice of the Ex-Offender, National Urban League, Puentas, Neighborhood Partnership Network, Vietnamese American Youth of Louisiana-New Orleans, and Mary Queen of Viet Nam Community Development Corporation. Partners in coastal Mississippi included Coastal Women for Change, NAACP-Biloxi, and Life Sowers Community Development Corporation.
17. The Census Bureau published two sets of participation rates — initial and final. The initial rate reflected the percent of households that returned a census form by mail through April 27, 2010. The final rate included "late" mail returns received through September 6, 2010. Both the initial national participation rate (72 percent) and final national participation rate (74 percent) equaled the 2000 census participation rates. However, the cut-off date for the 2000 census initial participation rates was April 18, 2000, reflecting timing differences in census operations between the two enumerations. The Census Bureau included all addresses from which it did not receive a questionnaire by the cut-off date in the universe of households that census takers would visit, even if the household mailed back the form after the cut-off date. Because "late mail returns" did not reduce the cost, scope, and difficulty of the Nonresponse Follow-up operation, and because the different cut-off dates for the mail-back phase made the final participation rates less comparable than the initial rates, The Education Fund believes it is more useful to evaluate initial participation rates in discussing the effectiveness of census operations in the Gulf Coast.
18. The Census Bureau did not calculate participation rates for U/E areas, where the count was conducted entirely door-to-door. A fuller explanation of this method is given in the section of this report on the Texas colonias.
19. "Katrina's Impact On New Orleans' Population," National Public Radio, Washington, D.C., August 24, 2010.