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'Hard-To-Count' Communities In Kansas City Wonder Why The Census Bureau Hasn’t Reached Out Sooner

Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3
The Southeast branch of the Kansas City Public Library, at 6242 Swope Parkway, is one of 3,193 partners for the U.S. Census in Missouri, where people can get information on the count.

The United States Census has started outreach to minority communities and hidden populations in Kansas City less than two weeks before the official launch of the once-a-decade count.

“By now they should have developed a system: how can we get into the communities that don’t want to (talk to the census workers?),” said Wasim Khan, a commissioner for Kenya on the Kansas City Ethnic Enrichment Commission. “So culturally, we are very unsensitive.”

Khan was among the advocates for minority groups at a census-sponsored meeting on Feb. 27 in Kansas City, Kansas, many of whom were surprised that officials are just now trying to engage their communities before the March 12 launch. They wondered why the federal government hadn’t started sooner.

The 2010 Census undercounted minorities – about 2.1% of blacks and 1.5% of Hispanics, meaning 1.5 million people weren’t counted. About 5% of American Indians living on reservations and nearly 2% of those who said they were “some other race” were also not counted.

The count, required by the U.S. Constitution, is critical for allocation of $675 billion in federal funding for all communities in the United States. Census numbers help set the $20.6 million figure for Jackson County, Missouri, for example, and the $10.6 million in Johnson County, Kansas. The census also determines how many representatives each state will have in Congress.  

Khan said there was lots of talk about reaching communities after the 2010 census, but there was no follow-up.

Census officials say they are working hard to reach what it calls “hard-to-count populations” this year.

Hard-to-count populations are children under the age of five, racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, low-income residents, undocumented immigrants, homeless people, LGBTQ people and highly mobile people such as college students.

The census met a goal of reaching out to 300,000 partnering organizations across the country, according to a February 25 news release. In Missouri, the census has 3,193 partners, said Linda Gladden, a media specialist in the Chicago census region, which includes Missouri.

In Kansas City, Missouri, those groups include the Kansas City Public Library, the Hispanic News, the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce, the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City and the Metropolitan AME Zion Church. In Kansas City, Kansas, the groups include Catholic Charities, El Centro and First Hmong Baptist Church.

Gladden said the census doesn’t historically work on outreach during the ten years between the counts. Last year, the Census Bureau hired more than 1,500 partnership specialists to “produce accurate data on American's people, places and economy,” she said.

“When you’re doing a big project like this, will everyone be satisfied with the efforts that we’ve made and that we continue to make? No. There’s no way we can satisfy everyone,” Gladden said.  

When Kahn spoke up at the meeting at the Reardon Convention Center on Feb. 27, he told the several dozen people that Africans fear authority figures, so it’s especially hard to find them and talk to them. Leaders of the African immigrant and refugee communities in the metro area weren't invited to the meeting, he said.

“Empowerment is what’s missing now,” Kahn said. “There’s not a single African here except me.”

Carlos A. Urquilla-Diaz, a U.S. Census partnership specialist in the Dallas regional office, thanked Khan for coming to the meeting.

“We welcome you,” Urquilla-Diaz said. “I just don’t know where to find you.”

Khan also wondered why the census didn’t do outreach at last year's Ethnic Enrichment Festival, an event representing 60 cultures that attracts hundreds of thousands every August. Gladden, the census spokeswoman, said she didn’t know why there weren’t census representatives at the event.

For more information on the U.S. Census in Kansas City, go to census2020kc.org.

Peggy Lowe is a reporter at KCUR and is on Twitter @peggyllowe.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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