Morial, Civil Rights Activists Lobby for Accurate Census Count

Shantella Y. Sherman | 12/24/2009, 1:27 a.m.

National Urban League President Marc Morial, along with a contingency of Civil Rights activists made a special plea to the U.S. Census Bureau Wed., Dec. 16, to make whatever special provisions were necessary to get an accurate count of African Americans in their 2010 report.

Morial said that despite accounting for more than 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans include the Census Bureau's most difficult group to count. African Americans make up a large proportion of what census workers call "hard-to-count" groups, which also include other ethnic minorities and immigrants, children and poor people, said Corrine Yu, senior counsel and managing policy director for the Leadership Council on Civil Rights.

Yu said that African Americans continue to demonstrate a "general distrust of the government" which has hindered participation.

Joseph Eccles, 49, said that he refused to open the door to Census takers in 2000 and would most likely do the same in 2010. Although he could provide no concrete reason as to why, Eccles insisted that he didn't want the government "nosing" around his home.

"I have heard what Black leaders have to say about getting federal dollars and miscounts, but when someone comes to my door trying to determine who lives here, our incomes, and all of that, I have nothing for them. I will not participate in my own demise," Eccles said.

Morial believes that the government's planned $300 million advertising campaign aimed at getting " hard-to-count" groups to respond to the census, may not be enough.

"My takeaway from the meeting is that the secretary listened intently and took our concerns very seriously. We still feel there are important, significant steps that need to be taken to ensure that there is a complete count in the 2010 census," Morial said following the meeting.

The U.S. is facing unprecedented homelessness and foreclosure rates; illegal immigrants are pledging to boycott the census; conservatives claim it's rigged in favor of the Obama administration and perhaps even unconstitutional. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves admitted that the poor economy and tensions over immigration could derail participation in the head count, which is primarily used to apportion House seats and distribute some $400 billion in federal aid.

Of particular concern to Morial and Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, are the gross miscounts from previous years, including the 2000 census, which Jealous said undercounted African Americans by nearly three percent.

Jealous and Morial also asked that prison inmates be included in counts of their hometowns, not where they are imprisoned. Morial said that with nearly 1.5 million African Americans in prison out of a total Black population of about 40 million, there was a built-in "undercount."

Yu said it was unlikely that many of the concerns the group presented would be answered definitively in the 2010 count.

"We don't know exactly how this is going to work, because this is a unique circumstance,"she said. "But that kind of displacement, whether it's natural disaster like Katrina or a man-made disaster like the foreclosure crisis, will be a new challenge for the 2010 census."

Morial said he believes the Census Bureau needed more Black managers and subcontractors so "the firms that know these communities best are calling the shots."

Yu said that issue was unlikely to be resolved in time for 2010, but was "an important issue for consideration for the 2020 census. It's too late in the process for 2010,"Yu said.