United Way of Greater Atlanta encourages Census participation
By Paul Jennings, Event Script Writer and Content Manager at United Way of Greater Atlanta
There is a magnetism that emanates from Rashad Robinson. In a matter of seconds, he has filled a once dull auditorium with the sounds of a revolution.
“If we are not using the Census to build power, then we are not using it right,” says Robinson. “Racial justice is strategy, not charity.”
Robinson is President of Color of Change. He, alongside several other keynote speakers, took the time to speak on the issue of Black representation in the United States Census at an event convened by United Way of Greater Atlanta in September of 2019 – an issue of great concern in our country.
It’s an issue that Geoffrey Streat, director of Place-Based Initiatives at United Way of Greater Atlanta, wanted to have people talk about. That’s why he organized the event.
The gathering represents another chapter in United Way’s lively dedication to equity-oriented work in its 13-county region.
In August of 2019, the organization hosted one of its “InForum” conversations that focused on incorporating equity into education. The following day, there was an equity workshop that United Way of Greater Atlanta tasked a representative from the National Equity Project to facilitate.
There have been ongoing “State of the Children” conversations hosted by United Way of Greater Atlanta, where senior members of the organization have talked to community residents about the Child Well-Being Movement — a relatively new, data-driven framework that United Way adopted in 2017.
The Movement has committed the organization to making Greater Atlanta a community where every child, their family and the communities that surround them, can thrive.
In order to reach that thriving community though, there needs to be an understanding of who is actually in the community.
After all, data from the Census provide the basis for distributing more than $675 billion in federal funds annually to communities across the country to support vital programs — impacting housing, education, transportation, employment, health care and public policy in a huge way.
On an even larger political level, data from the Census are used to redraw the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts. This information is also used to determine the number of congressional seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Without a proper count, many communities are in serious danger of missing out on the very resources meant for their benefit.
And improper counts aren’t as uncommon as you might think.
According to the United States Bureau of the Census, Black males have historically been undercounted in previous Census reports, sometimes by more than 10 percent.
In a report sent out by the United States Bureau of the Census in 2012, post-Census analysis revealed that the “non-Hispanic white alone population” had been overcounted by 0.8 percent.
Robert Groves, director of the Census Bureau in 2012, stated, “because ethnic and racial minorities disproportionately live in hard-to-count circumstances, they too were undercounted relative to the majority population.”
“Hard-to-count” circumstances are those described as conditions that make individuals hard to locate, contact, persuade or interview.
In 2016, Dr. William O’Hare, previously a senior consultant for the KIDS COUNT Project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, developed a report on the reasons why certain populations were classified as “hard-to-count.”
Among those reasons, he included: home addresses not being included in a Census address roster, a fear of government and privacy, language issues, complex household relationships and highly mobile populations with multiple addresses.
One speaker from the United Way event, Cliff Albright, spoke passionately to some of the issues that more directly affect the Black community.
“A Black undercount is not a new thing,” says Albright. “This country was founded on a Black undercount… From the moment that they [the government] decided they would only count us as three-fifths of a person, a Black undercount was built in. It makes no sense to treat our folks, that are skeptical of this process, like they’re crazy.”
Albright called on attendees to listen to the lived experiences of individuals who are currently wary about filling out the Census and to ensure that those who are reaching out to these populations are speaking to the fears that they might hold.
And these hard-to-count populations are no small matter in Georgia.
Ed Reed, program director for Faircount, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that every Georgian fills out the 2020 Census, says approximately 22 percent of Georgia’s residents live in areas that are classified as hard-to-count.
“Georgia has roughly 1.6 million Black men and research indicated that 67,000 Black men are at risk of not being counted,” says Reed.
Reed also indicated that between 76 to 100 percent of those hard-to-count residents live in the middle and Southern parts of Georgia, which is where his organization will be directing most of its outreach efforts for the upcoming 2020 Census.
Tamieka Atkins, executive director of ProGeorgia, believes her organization can help refine some of those efforts.
“If we are going to reach people to get them to complete the Census, if we are going to reach hard-to-count communities, then we have got to rely on the trusted messengers, who have already been calling, texting, knocking on doors and sending neighbors to households of color,” says Atkins.
Atkins’ organization combines the strength of existing nonprofits to improve civic engagement and, subsequently, change the policies of Georgia.
Combined, these speakers are shedding light on the overlooked parts of Georgia. And, hopefully, they can encourage an audience to get the message about the importance of the Census out beyond these doors.
It’s just one more way that United Way of Greater Atlanta is activating residents across the region to join in and help improve the well-being of 250,000 children by 2027.
To learn more about United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Census work, please consider attending the upcoming January InForum Partnership Engagement Breakfast on January 30th, 2020. The Breakfast will feature a conversation with leaders who are working diligently to increase representation in underrepresented neighborhoods today, both at the local and national level.