Communities of Color Risk Being Undercounted in the Census

By Shani Saxon May 12, 2020

Advocates from California Black Census & Redistricting Hub (CA Black Hub), a project of California Calls, and a network of over 30 Black-led and Black-serving organizations, recently launched an effort to urge Black and Brown communities to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census amid the coronavirus pandemic, Vox reports. “Data has shown that Black communities are always undercounted, and we see this happening yet again,” Antionette Saddler, a team lead at CA Black Hub, told Vox. “With Covid-19 hitting our communities at rapid rates, folks are being told to social distance, which means our opportunity to spread the word to some of the most undercounted communities has become little to none,” she explained.

Reports Vox:

If these communities aren’t reached, the implications are vast. The census shapes political representation and the allocation of public funding over the next decade, determining state Electoral College votes, as well as how local, state, and federal legislative district lines are drawn.

This is particularly important with a new redistricting cycle slated for 2021. Gerrymandering — wherein politicians in power manipulate district maps and boundary lines to favor their party winning elections — has long been used as a weapon to thwart and dilute the political strength of African Americans and other communities of color.

Communities of color could potentially receive significantly less funding for essential services including public schools, housing, mass transit, health programs and emergency services to name a few if most people don’t participate in the census. Nonpartisan think tank The Urban Institute projects more than four million people could be undercounted this year, according to Vox. “Billions in federal dollars flow to state governments and to the local level,” Michael C. Cook Sr., a spokesperson for the U.S. Census Bureau, told Vox. “It’s about power and money. It shapes the future.”

Members of CA Black Hub are worried the pandemic could severely damage this year’s count. According to Vox, prior to COVID-19, the group planned its “My Black Counts” campaign around “a mix of outreach, including education, digital advertising, social media, telephone calls, and door-to-door canvassing.” They were able to reach roughly 25,000 of California’s nearly three million Black people this way. However, in light of the current social distancing guidelines, the organization now relies on “a virtual phone bank platform that enables coalition members to efficiently call and communicate the importance of everyone being counted in the census,” Vox reports. At least 5,000 calls were made during April. 

“I have talked to many community members who didn’t even remember the 2020 census was live, or they feel discouraged right now,” Sadler said in her interview with Vox. “This pandemic has shaken people, but it is my duty to remind them that they do matter, that they do count.”

Click here to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census.