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.
Mississippi Gulf Coast and Delta; Community Advocates Lead the Way Toward a Full and Fair Count
The prevalence of population and housing characteristics associated with hard-to-count areas made Mississippi a particularly challenging enumeration environment for the Census Bureau. Mississippi has the highest percentage African-American population (37 percent) of any state (excluding the District of Columbia), and a growing number of Asian (especially Vietnamese) and Latino immigrants call the state home. While race and ethnicity are not direct variables in the Census Bureau's calculation of hard-to-count scores, the agency's research shows that areas with larger minority populations are more likely to be hard-to-count. Furthermore, the state has a high incidence of several characteristics used to identify hard-to-count communities, including percentage of the population with a high school degree (the state ranks 50th), median family and median household income (51st for both), percentage of people living below the poverty level (1st), and percentage of children below the poverty level (1st).20
Nonprofit organizations working in Mississippi's lower income and immigrant communities knew all too well the challenges to achieving an accurate census count.21 An analysis of Census 2000 data by The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that nearly one-fifth (18.6 percent) of the state's population lived in a hard-to-count area. Of the roughly 528,000 people living in hard-to-count areas, more than a third (36.6 percent) of Mississippi's Black population and more than a fifth of both its Hispanic (21 percent) and Asian (23 percent) populations lived in these communities, compared to less than a twelfth (7.8 percent) of the non-Hispanic White population.22
By 2009, with the start of early 2010 census field operations, many community advocates were organizing census outreach campaigns and preparing their constituents to apply for temporary census jobs and to cooperate with census workers when the enumeration started.
As The Education Fund noted in its 2009 report, the Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General had expressed concern about the thoroughness of address canvassing in rural communities, prevalent in much of Mississippi.23 Regional and community 2010 census partners, such as Mississippi-based Southern Echo, reported that some Local Census Offices might not be hiring local residents familiar with the difficult terrain and hidden housing units in many rural areas to conduct address canvassing. The Education Fund observed then: "Failure to tap local knowledge in historically hard-to-count areas – such as poor, predominantly Black, rural swaths of southern Mississippi – can adversely affect the quality of the address lists used in next spring's enumeration. Gaps in the final address lists could increase the effort required to locate rural homes when the enumeration starts and put these communities at risk of an undercount."24 As the Census Bureau transitioned to implementation of the counting process, reports from unsuccessful census job applicants suggested to community advocates a systemic reluctance on the part of Local Census Offices to hire residents of difficult-to-enumerate areas to conduct the count in the neighborhoods in which they lived.
Subsequent observations from community partners as the census unfolded in 2010 indicate that the failure to hire address listers and other staff who were culturally sensitive to their work areas may have gone beyond the state's rural areas. Census advocates documented large numbers of homes in several low-income, virtually all-Black neighborhoods that did not receive census forms in the mail (Mail-out/Mail-back areas) or by hand-delivery (Update/Leave areas); many were in communities where partners had reported either an absence of address listers in the earlier operation or the presence of canvassers who clearly did not live in those neighborhoods. While we cannot know specifically why particular addresses did not receive census forms, the general location of substantial numbers of missing questionnaires suggests that address listers were not familiar enough with their assignment areas or perhaps did not feel sufficiently comfortable in all sections of their assignment areas to verify and update fully the preliminary address lists.
In early April 2010, the nonprofit Concerned Citizens For a Better Tunica County, Inc. (Concerned Citizens), a 2010 Census partner conducting considerable outreach activities, sent a memo to the bureau's Southhaven Local Census Office (LCO) outlining several significant concerns about operations in the county — concerns that advocates in other Delta and coastal counties echoed. Concerned Citizens reported that many residents had not received questionnaires and that enumerators in some Update/Leave developments were dropping off forms in bulk with building managers instead of delivering them to each individual address. The latter observation appears related to a broader concern raised during the 2009 address canvassing: Civic leaders contended that the Local Census Office was not hiring and assigning supervisors and enumerators in a way appropriate for a small, virtually segregated, predominantly Black (73 percent) county. The assignment of enumerators in Tunica "seem[s] to be contrary" to the Census Bureau's emphasis on "getting people who are familiar with the area and who are trusted by the people to help count these hard-to-count areas," the group's executive director, Melvin Young, wrote.25 He and other grassroots leaders attributed the lack of field staff familiar with low-income, African-American communities to the absence of a Local Census Office in the Mississippi Delta, noting that the LCO in predominantly White and far wealthier DeSoto County covered this classically hard-to-count region of the state. Mr. Young noted that Concerned Citizens previously had brought these and other concerns to the attention of local elected officials and the bureau's partnership specialist assigned to the area; he requested a meeting with the LCO manager.
With the clock for mail response ticking down and continuing unresolved problems in the field, especially related to nonreceipt of census forms, anxious grassroots organizations turned to The Education Fund for assistance in addressing their concerns at a higher level within the Census Bureau. Senior Dallas Regional Census Office officials responded quickly to our request for intervention, participating in an Education Fund-facilitated conference call with about 15 organizations promoting census participation among Black, Latino, Vietnamese, and other population groups that are vulnerable to undercounting. While the discussion was constructive and established an avenue for addressing local concerns rapidly, it also was clear that community organizations expected to play a more direct and useful role in achieving an accurate census than the Census Bureau had envisioned for its partners, a scenario that played out in many communities across the country. For example, community leaders believed they could help ensure better coverage during the follow-up phase by reviewing the bureau's address list for pockets of missing housing units. However, the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program, specifically authorized by federal law, allows only designated state and local government officials to review these lists. Nevertheless, Census Bureau officials and community advocates agreed to pursue several steps to overcome obstacles in the field. To start, Mississippi groups (as well as those in the Texas colonias) began to compile specific information on neighborhoods where many residents said they had not received a questionnaire. Advocates were particularly focused on African-American neighborhoods in Tunica, Grenada, Hinds, Jefferson Davis, Washington, and Webster counties.
As Local Census Offices transitioned from the mail phase to the labor-intensive Nonresponse Follow-up phase (NRFU), additional worries surfaced among many community leaders. Advocates for Mississippi's small but growing Latino and Vietnamese immigrant communities were not confident that competent Spanish and Vietnamese speaking enumerators were assigned to visit households in neighborhoods where English is not the primary language. Those working with Latino residents had observed throughout the lead-up to the census that there was only one native Spanish-speaking partnership specialist in the state, insufficient to cover effectively the growing post-Katrina Latino population that stretched from catfish farming to gaming industry communities and elsewhere.26 Census partners were especially dubious that the universe of housing units being reached through NRFU included addresses that did not receive a questionnaire by mail or hand-delivery, especially in areas where entire subdivisions or buildings had been overlooked in the first operation. In light of this latter concern, local advocates also wanted more visible promotion of the telephone response option for people who believed they were missed in both the mail and door-to-door operations.
The use of cultural facilitators to assist enumerators in contacting and obtaining information from reluctant households created a great deal of confusion among community organizations in Mississippi, the Texas colonias, and elsewhere. Cultural facilitators are not direct employees of the Census Bureau but are hired on an as-needed basis by enumerators or their supervisors to help bridge cultural and language differences that might be preventing census staff from gaining the cooperation of a household during the door-to-door phase. The facilitators are considered contract employees and can be paid on the spot if a census worker only needs an individual's assistance on a single occasion; facilitators assisting on multiple days must complete an I-9 employment form.27 Local advocates initially were not aware of this resource for enumerators and did not have information about who could be hired, and under what circumstances, for these positions.
Community groups appreciated the effort Dallas Regional officials were making to correct problems in the field and to keep them informed about the progress of the count. The regional director or the Regional Census Center director − and sometimes both − continued to participate in frequent conference calls with local partners and The Education Fund to assess the progress of the count in both Greater New Orleans and in Mississippi, as well as in the Texas colonias, answer lingering or new concerns, and to tap local knowledge about areas where residents had not received personal visits. Nevertheless, below-average participation rates28 in Mississippi (67 percent), Louisiana (64 percent), and Texas (69 percent) heightened anxiety about the Census Bureau's ability to assure full coverage in historically undercounted Gulf Coast and border areas. Mississippi census partners remained concerned about the broader implications of persistent operational difficulties in Black, immigrant, and low-income neighborhoods, especially with respect to nonreceipt of questionnaires and a lack of sufficient field staff familiar with these areas and residents. They believed that any comparable problems in similar Gulf Coast communities would jeopardize the accuracy of the census in the entire region, an unacceptable outcome that warranted attention from Congress.
On May 18, 30 local, regional, and national civil rights and grassroots organizations sent a letter to Rep. William Lacy Clay, D. Mo., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives, outlining their concerns about census operations in Mississippi, the greater New Orleans area, and the Texas Rio Grande Valley, and requesting a subcommittee field hearing to examine and address these difficulties before the Nonresponse Follow-Up phase ended in early July. (See full letter in Appendix B.) After receiving the letter, Chairman Clay met with Census Director Robert Groves to discuss the issues of concern and possible solutions. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Groves reached out to community census leaders in Mississippi and arranged to meet with all interested partner organizations in the region on June 3 in Jackson, Mississippi. The Education Fund helped to organize the event and worked with both grassroots organizations and Census Bureau staff to set an appropriate agenda. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D. Miss., sent a staff representative to the meeting, as well.
Dr. Groves' visit to Mississippi was a turning point for many community leaders, signaling that the Census Bureau valued their perspective, acknowledged their frustration with many aspects of the count, and understood that the agency must work collaboratively with organizations most knowledgeable about barriers to full participation in order to achieve an acceptable result. The director met with census advocates for well over three hours and joined them for a press briefing to highlight areas of cooperation and encourage Mississippi residents to continue cooperating with census takers. Dr. Groves told the Jackson Free Press that enumerators' cultural sensitivity and local knowledge were keys to a successful field operation and promised to ensure that Local Census Offices relied on cultural facilitators whenever necessary to establish trust among wary residents.29 In an on-site video interview with Moving Forward Gulf Coast, Inc., the director praised the region's 2010 census community partners for devoting so much effort to census promotion and recognized the importance of "on-the-ground knowledge" to identifying and resolving operational difficulties, especially in hard-to-count areas.30
The meeting resulted in a new round of radio and print advertising in the Mississippi Delta and in coastal Mississippi and Louisiana counties, where some mail-back rates were disconcertingly low and advocates feared that many households simply were not in the enumeration universe. The new ads, which targeted African-American and Latino audiences, promoted not only the current door-to-door activities but publicized the toll-free telephone response option for those who had not received a questionnaire or a visit from an enumerator. Regional office staff distributed updated promotional fliers to community partners, highlighting the Nonresponse Follow-Up process and Telephone Questionnaire Assistance lines.
Working with Local Census Offices in Mississippi, the Dallas Regional Census Office compiled information on communities throughout the state where the progress of Nonresponse Follow-Up visits was lagging, allowing grassroots organizers to target their messaging and activities, such as canvassing and leafleting, to neighborhoods with the lowest participation. The regional office also asked local leaders to provide the names of individuals in hard-to-count communities who could serve as cultural facilitators or translators. At the request of local advocates and the Census director, the regional director issued updated guidance to Local Census Office supervisors and to census enumerators, reminding them of the availability of cultural facilitators and translators to help establish trust in communities where language barriers, suspicion, or fear of governmental authorities were impeding progress.
Following the director's Mississippi visit, local advocates and regional census staff continued to confer regularly via conference call, reviewing the progress of the door-to-door operation as the July 10th end to Nonresponse Follow-Up approached and identifying neighborhoods where clusters of unresponsive households remained. The regional director assigned a senior Partnership Program staff member to serve as his "point person" in Mississippi, conferring with community partners and helping to ensure that the set of activities flowing from the meeting with the census director and the ongoing conference calls were implemented quickly and fully with input from all interested parties.
These efforts were important and useful. It is fair to say, however, that the "trust gap" created earlier in the census process when community concerns about hiring and coverage went largely unheeded continued to color the perspective of census advocates during the final weeks of the field follow-up operation, making them skeptical of Census Bureau pledges to reach and count all households. Dallas Regional Census Office officials continued to give general assurances that their methods would ensure complete coverage of all households. But grassroots and regional leaders, in particular, wanted to fully understand the procedures to count residents who had not received census forms or an enumerator visit, to help them track progress and take additional steps to identify all neighborhoods that remained uncounted. Civic leaders continued to work closely with regional Census Bureau staff, determined to ensure full participation and coverage in the communities they represented. At the same time, however, they renewed their request to congressional overseers to shine an external spotlight on significant operational difficulties that had plagued the census process in this especially hard-to-count region, with a goal of offering solutions and improvements that the bureau could consider early in the formative stages of 2020 census planning. Chairman Clay declined to schedule such a hearing, much to the disappointment of community and regional leaders, but promised to examine operational problems encountered in the Gulf Coast as part of his panel's evaluation of the 2010 census and consideration of ideas for improving future decennial enumerations.31
* * *
Community leaders and organizations representing the interests of historically hard-to-count populations in Mississippi's Delta region, immigrant enclaves, and coastal and rural areas identified early operational problems that could threaten the accuracy of the 2010 census. They were particularly concerned about a failure to hire a sufficient number of supervisors, enumerators, and partnership program staff with cultural and linguistic fluency appropriate for the communities and populations to which they were assigned. It is especially important to hire indigenous and culturally knowledgeable staff in neighborhoods where people are wary of government activities and officials. While the Census Bureau provided for the use of cultural facilitators to help enumerators establish trust and communication in hard-to-count communities, it appears that neither Local Census Offices nor community partners in Mississippi were familiar with this resource until field operations were well underway.
The Local Census Office with responsibility for the Delta region appeared to be unresponsive to the concerns of local advocates about the progress of census operations, straining communications between the Census Bureau and its partner organizations and delaying resolution of the most pressing problems. Once The Education Fund helped to establish a direct line of communication with regional and national Census Bureau officials, community leaders saw some progress in coverage of neighborhoods that the Local Census Office had overlooked in early operations, and they appreciated the acknowledgement from Census Director Groves of the enormous value of their efforts in conducting the census. But the agency's early unresponsiveness and oversights in Mississippi, and continued confusion between regional and local Census staff about procedures such as the use of cultural facilitators, had severely weakened community leaders' trust in the ability of the census process to count all population groups fully and fairly. Their experience highlights the importance of effective communication between local Census Bureau staff and community partners and the need for much stronger oversight from regional census offices to ensure Local Census Office adherence to hiring guidelines and goals and knowledge about the full range of field methods that are available to advance the enumeration effectively. In the future, the Partnership Program should establish and convey clearer information for partner organizations about their role in the census process, and the Census Bureau should consider ways to incorporate local knowledge to a greater extent in planning and executing the enumeration, especially in communities most at risk of an undercount.
20. All rankings include the District of Columbia and are based on 2009 American Community Survey data.
21. The Education Fund's leading community-based census partners in Mississippi included Concerned Citizens for a Better Tunica County, Inc.; BPSOS, an advocacy organization for Vietnamese Americans; Southern Echo, a leadership development and education organization primarily serving the African-American community; and the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance.
22. Analysis by Dr. William O'Hare, Senior Fellow, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, for the Funders Census Initiative, using 2000 census population data and defining hard-to-count areas as those with a score of 60 or above.
23. U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General, OIG Flash Report, Census 2010: Observations and Address Listers' Reports Provide Serious Indications That Important Address Canvassing Procedures Are Not Being Followed, OIG-19636-01, May 2009.
24. "Counting in the Wake of Catastrophe", p. 19.
25. Letter from Concerned Citizens For a Better Tunica County, Inc. to the Southhaven Local Census Office in Horn Lake, MS, April 10, 2010.
26. Immigrants rights advocates praised the efforts of the native Spanish-speaking partnership specialist, but reported that other partnership specialists or assistants assigned to the Latino community were not native speakers and had difficulty communicating well with immigrants who did not speak English. Their concerns extended to enumerators in predominantly Latino neighborhoods who were not native speakers.
27. To comply with provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, all U.S. employers must verify the employment eligibility and identity of all employees hired to work, including both citizens and non-citizens. Employees must complete the I-9 form and show acceptable documentation of their eligibility to work in the United States.
28. The national participation rate as of April 27, 2010, the end of the mail phase of the census, was 72 percent.
29. Schaefer, Ward, "Census Director Stresses Cultural Sensitivity," Jackson Free Press, June 4, 2010.
30. The full video is posted at http://www.movingforwardgc.org/census_advocacy.php.
31. The results of the 2010 midterm elections shifted control of committees in the U.S. House of Representatives to the Republican party, giving Republicans far more say in setting the agenda for hearings and investigations in the 112th Congress.