Civil rights groups played an essential role in ensuring a fair and accurate 2010 census, Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund, told lawmakers at a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee hearing last week.
Latino communities benefitted from partnership programs that provided support and improvements to the 2010 census, Vargas said. Community outreach efforts included the distribution of bilingual English/Spanish questionnaires to certain households for the first time; innovative communications through a Spanish-language website and community forums; and partnership with organizations and community leaders to build campaign trust and ensure an accurate record of hard-to-count populations.
Leading up to the count, civil rights organizations, including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, partnered with the bureau to carry out training, promotional activities, and public education efforts in the campaign’s target areas where historical and demographic indicators suggested the potential for disproportionately high undercounts.
The Leadership Conference Education Fund issued a report focusing on the Gulf Coast and the Texas Colonias, which examined the unique challenges that the Census Bureau faced in that region and provided policy recommendations in preparation for the next census.
The hearing explored ways to improve the census while maintaining accuracy and cost effectiveness. “We at the Census Bureau know that we must innovate if we are to remain useful and relevant to the country. Further, we know that his innovation is not likely to be funded by added resources; we must become more efficient,” said Robert M. Groves, director of the Census Bureau.
A study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the cost of counting each household increased from $16.00 in 1970 to $70.00 in 2010. In order to reduce the costs of the 2020 census, Robert Goldenkoff, GAO’s director of strategic issues, urged improvements in operations and management and technological systems, and a continued collaboration with Congress.
Many witnesses, including Vargas, agreed that in planning for the 2020 census, the bureau must modernize by providing the internet as a response option. Although an internet option will likely reduce costs, Vargas cautioned that the Census Bureau “must carefully consider the continued racial and ethnic disparities in internet and broadband access, [and] it should evaluate options available to make electronic filing accessible to individuals who currently lack the technological resources or skills to utilize electronic filing.”