The 2020 Census counts every person living in the United States and its five territories, but in the last 20 years, the undercount of Latinx and Black American communities has worsened according to a 2014 study
from the U.S. Census Bureau.
But these communities haven’t always been encouraged to participate in the census. Back in 1787, when the census was established, enslaved Black Americans were counted as three fifths of a person while Native Americans were not counted because they were not considered U.S. Citizens.
But in 1850, the U.S. Census began asking questions about race and ethnicity and later the answers to these questions were used to create immigration quotas
to limit the number of immigrants coming from Latin America and Asia.
Census numbers influence government support of a wide range of programs, including student funding for schools and actives like band.
Although today the data obtained from the census is used to ensure how many dollars in federal funding go to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads, and other resources, many communities — especially the Latinx community — are hesitant to participate. The city of Wyoming is working to encourage its large Latinx community (22.8%) to be counted in order to provide funding for programs for this often marginalized population.
Latinx community & Wyoming
In 2010, the net undercount rate
in the United States for young Latinx was 7.1% compared to 4.3% for non-Latinx. The last census also failed to properly count for Latinx children under four years of age, and more than 400,000 Latinx children
In a city like Wyoming, Michigan, where 47% of families are employed yet asset limited and income constrained according to data
obtained from the 2017 American Community Survey, being able to maximize the amount of funds the city receives to support these families is critically important, explains Megan Sall, deputy city manager for the City of Wyoming. She says Kent County’s data shows that the city of Wyoming has one of the highest number of people employed but at the lowest median income.
Home to over 75,000 people, the city of Wyoming is the 16th largest city in the state. “People don’t realize how many people live here and one of the highest growing populations is the Latinx community,” she explains.
Currently, Sall says, councils and board of commissioners don’t quite represent the people that live in Wyoming, but there are ways to ensure this begins to change and one is through the census. The data from the census helps determine how many seats each state gets to reapportion the House of Representatives. And for Sall, this is the power the Latinx community has to ensure equal representation at every level happens.
For Sall, the census is an easy way to keep the most marginalized at the forefront. “We really love this community and it's so important to us that people understand that everyone who lives here matters and one way we can ensure they are important is by knowing they are here and they are represented in our population count,” she adds.
According to Sall, ensuring everyone in the city of Wyoming is counted in the census is in the community’s best interest. “Those who will benefit the most from the funds that are funneled to communities thanks to data obtained through the census are more often than not those have been historically undercounted in previous censuses.”
In the last two decades, the percentage of Latinx residents in Wyoming has more than doubled
and Sonia Riley, a long time resident of the city, explains that she believes this is a result of gentrification. “In the last 10 years, Grand Rapids has seen a dramatic increase in rents, forcing many low income Latinx families out of the city and into the city of Wyoming,” she explains.
Riley is an appointed member of the Community Enrichment Commission of the City of Wyoming and she says there is a gap in data regarding individuals who lived in Wyoming 10 years ago and those who live in the city now.
“I am most worried about how undercounting could affect Wyoming Public Schools. In the last couple of years we have seen the consolidation of two high schools in Wyoming because of lack of funding.” Riley says she’s afraid undercounting could minimize the funding Wyoming receives and could contribute to more school closures.
Sonia RileyHow Census funding affect communities
Census numbers help guide how much financial assistance school districts with a high percentage of children from low-income families receive. This funding comes from Title I grants which Juan Pablo Arangure, a Kent School Services Network School Coordinator at West Elementary in Wyoming, says could have a significant impact on how he helps families access affordable housing and address food insecurity. He says a lack of affordable housing and food insecurity are two of the biggest barriers the students at the school face.
“Before COVID-19, a lot of my work focuses on making sure families at my school had enough to eat and a safe place to live,” Arangure says.
For many families at West Elementary, Arangure is their one point of contact to resources. He connects them with housing, clothes, and food resources. Unfortunately, Arangure says the needs of the families are great and there is more of a need than there are supports and services for these families.
“Filling out the census is one way to maximize resources for these families because it allows the school to get funding to help the families I work with on a day-to-day basis,” shares Arangure.
As a whole district, Wyoming Public Schools provides free lunches to the majority of enrolled students and that's part of filling out the census. “Many families can’t afford to get enough food for the week and the food that their kids get at school is sometimes the only food that they will get all day,” Arangure says.
Something as simple as receiving breakfast and lunch at school can help lessen the burden for parents living paycheck-to-paycheck. The pandemic has changed how Arangure works, but the needs of the family haven’t.
Many of the Wyoming families he works with continue to struggle with food insecurity. Three days a week, he delivers between 40 to 50 sack lunches per day. Filling out the census ensures lunches can be made available to students, and many depend on these meals to survive. Arangure says the district has a large Latinx population, but many of them have not been counted. “They don’t understand the census and are afraid the data could be used against them,” he explains.
Citizenship Question and the 2020 Census
The 2020 Census does not ask whether or not a respondent is a U.S. citizen, an immigrant ,or a green card holder; but up until June of last year the Trump Administration had proposed to include this question on the census. And Arangure says that for undocumented families in Wyoming, this would have served to further discourage the participation of the families he works with.
“Families who need to be counted in order for the community to get funds to support them,” he adds. And the data matches Arangure’s conclusion: according to a 2019 study
from the U.S. Census Bureau, close to 9 million people would choose not to participate in the census if the citizenship question was included.
“I am glad the citizenship question isn’t included, but the Latinx community in Wyoming is still experiencing the after effects of the fight that ensued over the question at the United States Supreme Court after President Donald Trump proposed it,” he explains.
The citizenship question has not been included in the census since the 1950s, and was phased out to prevent undercounting. And while the question isn’t being included in this year’s census, he thinks not everyone is aware of that fact.
“The data shared will not have an impact on whether someone can be deported,” he adds. Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, all census answers are anonymous and protected, and this fact Arangure wants the community to know. “For every person who gets counted our community has the potential to have up to $18,000 dollars in funding for schools, hospitals, and roads,” he adds.
For both Riley and Arangure the answer to undercounting lies on providing census information directly into the hands of Wyoming residents. “It could look like developing partnerships with churches and food pantries and making sure that every individual who receives food also receives information on how to complete the census and why it's so important,” adds Riley.
Today the census can be completed electronically, via phone, paper, or through a census enumerator. And while the efforts of the census have been interrupted by COVID-19 closures, the counting has been extended to the end of October.
Growing Wyoming is a four-part series highlighting the people, neighborhoods and small businesses in the city of Wyoming impacted by the 2020 census. This mini-series is designed to uplift community voices, and encourage all Wyoming residents to get involved and be counted.
Photos by Adam Bird of Bird + Bird Studio.