Story at a glance

  • The Census Bureau will end all collection efforts nationwide by Sept. 30, one month earlier than previously planned.
  • Communities of color, especially the indigenous population, have been historically undercounted in the census, which is used to allocate representation and resources.
  • The coronavirus pandemic halted in-person collection efforts for several months earlier this year.

Less than two months away from the accelerated deadline for the 2020 United States Census, the self-response rate for the largest and most populous Native American reservation in the United States is just 14.6 percent, compared to 63 percent among the general population. 

Since many households in the Navajo Nation either don’t have internet access or a U.S. postal system address, the Census Bureau must reach them in-person. But after the outbreak of COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected BIPOC communities, the Bureau paused field operations for over a month. Still, the agency said the count would not be extended until Oct. 31 as previously announced, but will end Sept. 30.

"Under this plan, the Census Bureau intends to meet a similar level of household responses as collected in prior censuses, including outreach to hard-to-count communities,” the Census Bureau said in a statement. 


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The problem for Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) is that they have been undercounted in prior censuses, especially hard-to-count communities where census efforts were interrupted this year by the coronavirus pandemic. Some Americans still hadn't received an invitation to take the 2020 census on Census Day, or April 1, the date you refer to when reporting where you live and how many people live in your household. And by the end of May, less than 1 percent of people in the Navajo Nation, a major coronavirus hotspot, had responded to the census.

Experts and advocates, who have been organizing efforts to “get out the count,” are worried that BIPOC communities will be undercounted yet again. Census numbers will be used to determine representation and the distribution of federal resources for years to come and it will be another decade before they will be recounted. Four former directors of the Census Bureau, Vincent Barabba, Kenneth Prewitt, Robert Groves and John Thompson, issued a statement Tuesday calling for the extension of data collection operations through the end of October, pushing back the final count.  

“Having helped to plan, execute or lead five decennial censuses serving nine Presidents of both parties, our expert opinion is that failing to extend the deadlines to April 30, 2021 will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country,” they said in the statement. “The end result will be under-representation of those persons that [Nonresponse Followup operation] was expected to reach and, at even greater rates for the traditionally hard-to-count populations with potentially extreme differential overcounts.”


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Published on Aug 04, 2020