April 6, 2010 | The Washington Independent | Original Article

Despite Outreach Campaign, Minority Census Participation Continues to Lag

When the Census Bureau announced it planned to spend $80 million of its $340 million ad campaign on outreach to hard-to-reach communities — including minorities and immigrants — early this year, many said that it wouldn’t be enough. Based on data tracking participation rates around the country, those critics may have been right: Areas with high percentages of minorities have much lower census participation rates thus far than predominately white areas.

In an effort to lower the number of undercounted communities, the census has targeted non-English speakers with ads in 28 languages and spent $23 million to target black populations. It also printed the first-ever bilingual questionnaire, in English and Spanish, which has been distributed to more than 13 million households, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, who is also on the Census Advisory Committee, during a press conference last month with civil rights groups. User guides are printed in 59 languages and the form itself in 6 languages. The bureau has even given some local community organizations up to $3,000 for their work to reach target communities.

But judging from the early numbers on participation rates, that may not be enough, despite a prediction that the message would reach 95% of the black population. The eight areas (of at least 50,000 people) with the highest participation rates are all predominantly white.

1. Green township, Ohio (97.52% white): 79% participation rate
2. Livonia city, Mich. (95.5% white): 78%
3. Macomb township, Mich. (96.1% white): 77%
4. St. Clair Shores city, Mich. (96.9% white): 77%
5. Dubuque city, Iowa (96.2% white): 76%
6. Orland Park village, Ill. (93.5% white): 76%
7. Orland township, Ill. (86.7% white): 76%
8. Rochester Hills city, Mich. (88.8% white): 76%

The national census participation rate is currently 60 percent.

Some of the areas with the highest black populations in the country, including Gary, Ind. (84.6 percent black) and Detroit, Mich. (81.6 percent black), have relatively low participation rates — 54 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Heavily Hispanic areas also lag far behind: El Paso, Texas (76.6 percent Hispanic) is at 57 percent and Santa Ana, Calif. (76.1 percent Hispanic) is at 54 percent participation. California and Texas — states with high numbers of Hispanics and immigrants — are among the states with the lowest participation rates.

But the census data show it’s not just blacks and Hispanics who are being undercounted. Native Americans reservations have some of the lowest participation rates in the country, with some not making it past the 10s.

Urban areas, which also tend to have high minority populations, aren’t doing very well, either. Here’s how the four largest cities in the country compare.

New York City: 45% participation rate
Los Angeles: 51%
Chicago: 49%
Houston: 48%

In addition to the ads, the census is still trying to target these communities by sending out a second questionnaire to houses that have not yet mailed the form back. In mid-April, the Bureau will be sending census workers to houses that did not turn in their forms.

“The 2010 Census, if everyone gets counted, will no doubt reflect a dramatically different future for America,” Racewire pointed out last week, “a nation that’s browner and more urban than ever.” But given these numbers, that type of America might have to wait until 2020.