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NiLP Latino Census Network

Latinos and the 2020 Census:

Results of a National Latino Meeting with the Census Director

By Angelo Falc�n (April 25, 20111)


Last Thursday, representatives from some of the leading national Latino organizations met with the Director of the US Census Bureau, Dr. Robert M. Groves, and its Deputy Director, Thomas L. Mesenbourg, Jr., to discuss a wide range of Census issues affecting the Latino community. The Latino organizations present were members of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA): the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), MANA-A National Latina Organization, National Association of Latino Appointed and Elected Officials (NALEO), National Council of La Raza (NCLR), National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMA), and the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). Robert Santos of The Urban Institute was also present as a special guest.


The focus of the Latino community on the Census usually occurs every ten years to help outreach to the community to promote participation in this decennial population count (well, except for those that called for its boycott last year). However, in the years in-between, Latino involvement with the Census is minimal despite the fact that much is going on to which Latinos should be paying more attention.


For example, planning has already begun for the 2020 Census! Then there is the American Community Survey (ACS) that replaced what used to be the so-called "long form" and produces important statistics on the American population every year now instead of only once in a decade. There is also the research that the Census Bureau is conducting on potential changes in the format and wording of the race and Hispanic questions that will be the basis for the discussion on the future of these questions for the 2020 Census, the ACS and other surveys they conduct. Decisions on these and other important issues need to be made during this decade and Latinos need to be a part of these discussions, and to do so in time to make a difference as opposed to coming in late in the game simply to protest.


The National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP), which has been involved with Census issues affecting Latinos since our founding in the early 1980s, decided to address this problem when in 2007 we created the Internet-based Latino Census Network. This network is an information service we have used to promote participation in the mobilization for the 2010 Census, but also on issues beyond. It benefitted from our long-time participation as a Census Information Center (CIC), which is  a data dissemination program of the Census Bureau, and my more recent membership on the Census Advisory Committee on the Hispanic Population (made possible by my nomination by Congressman Jos� Serrano and which I currently chair). In the last five years we have provided the community with regular updates on a wide range of Census issues affecting the Latino community. A major concern of the network has been the extreme underrepresentation of Latinos in the Census Bureau's work force.


The meeting with Census Director Groves covered the following issues:


Latino Employment. Latino levels of employment in the Census Bureau are unacceptably low. Latinos make up only 6 percent of the agency's work force, despite being over 13 percent of the country's civilian labor force. This situation is put in greater relief by the fact that Latino representation in the overall federal government is higher, at only 8 percent, and has been the subject of much criticism by Latinos.


Dr. Groves acknowledged the problem and reviewed the Census Bureau's efforts to design procedures to promote diversity in its work force and assure that Latino and other minority candidates are seriously considered. He also discussed meetings he has had with corporations like Google and GE who have promoted the development of Hispanic employees affinity groups among their employees to model similar approaches with existing Latino employees at the Bureau. He is also looking at best practices at other federal agencies that he could apply to the Census Bureau.


Maria-Elena Vivas-House, Executive Director of the HACU National Internship Program, provided an overview of her program and their positive work with the Census Bureau in providing college interns. In 2009 and 2010, the had placed about 70 Latino interns in the Census Bureau each year, a track record Deputy Director Mesenbourg said they plan to duplicate if not exceed.


William Gil, Senior Vice President with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute discussed their fellowship program. Robert Santos suggested greater Census Bureau relations with rpograms like the Urban Institute's Academy for Public Policy Analysis and Research, a program of skills-building, career development, and mentoring for minority undergraduates interested in careers in public policy research.


Gloria Montano-Greene, the Washington, DC Office Director of NALEO, reported on meeting held at the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on the Hispanic employment under-representation issue. They have recently set up a Federal Council on Hispanic Employment set up to advise OPM Director John Berry on Hispanic hiring, recruitment, retainment and advancement.


I explained that we had also invited Al Gallegos, Executive Director of the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives, to discuss their program of developing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with federal agencies on Hispanic employment, but he was not able to attend because of a family emergency. Dr. Groves expressed interest in following up on this MOU idea.


Latino Advisory Role. Following its downsizing after the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau is currently planning the reorganization of its various formal advisory committees. These include the now-defunct 2010 Census Advisory Committee, the Race and Ethnic Advisory Committees (REAC, of which the Census Advisory Committee on the Hispanic Population is a part) and the Scientific Advisory Committee (formerly the Census Advisory Committee of Professional Associations [CACPA]). These function under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.


Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of NALEO, who served on the 2010 Census Advisory Committee, discussed the functions of these advisory panels and presented the concern that Latino representation on the reorganized committees needs to increase. He pointed out that his was the only Latino organization represented on the 2010 CAC.


Census Director Groves explained his thinking about the issues involved in the reorganization of thee committees and expressed his commitment to the inclusion of Latinos and to the diversity of their memberships. He explained, in relation to the Race and Hispanic Advisory Committees, that he is also looking at expanding the groups to be included, with a special interest on the role of youth.


I raised the issue of the need for a more formal advisory role of stakeholders in each of the twelve existing Census Regional Offices. Dr. Groves explained that he is reexamining the role and structure of the regional offices, wondering if only having twelve such offices is sufficient. He wasn't sure how to integrate a formal advisory function into these offices but was willing to discuss this further.


Latino Data Dissemination and Outreach Plans. With the barrage of data being issued from the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey, the discussion turned to the Bureau's plans for the dissemination of these data to and training in their use in Latino communities. I spoke about the role of the Census Information Centers (CIC) Program, which includes a number of national and local Latino nonprofits. Patricia Foxen, the Research Director of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), which is a CIC, spoke about  their report, America's Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends, and explained their use of a web-based program to allow their 300 local affiliates agencies to access data for their particular states and localities.


Dr. Groves presented the group with his idea of pulling together statistics generated by different federal agencies to look at broader issues that would go beyond the special reports issued by the Census. He thought the NCLR's report was the type of thing he would like to see that would look at the whole of the American population. He asked the group for their feedback on this idea. He also pointed out that he had been receiving many complaints about the usability of the Census Bureau's main web-based data access tool, the newly-revamped American Factfinder, and asked for more feedback on this and their other such tools.


Race and Hispanic Questions Research Update. By 2017 or so the Census Bureau is required to submit to the Congress the questions they plan to use for the 2020 Census. The race and Hispanic questions would be part of this and the Bureau has already begun research on alternative ways to word and/or format these questions. Through their Alternative Questionnaire Experiment (AQE) program, they have conducted a major survey testing responses to different variations of these questions and are currently conducting 50 focus groups throughout the country on this subject. Dr. Groves explained that one issue has to do with some nationality groups wanting a checkbox on the Census form for their group. This has been especially an issue for Dominicans and Salvadorans, whose populations now exceed one million each but are nit listed alongside Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans on the Census form. The issue of the multi-racial option was also discussed


The group expressed the importance of assuring that the Latino community is a part of the discussions on the future of these questions from the start. Dr. Groves agreed and stated that he would be willing to work with us to hold a special briefing on the preliminary results of the AQE research when they become available sometime in the Fall. He explained that the Census Bureau would not be making any decisions on the future of these questions until much later in the decade.


I also brought up the related issue of the language questions in the American Community Survey and pointed to the Census Bureau's recent decision to drop the use of the term "linguistically isolated" in describing limited English-speaking households. This was the result of an 8-year campaign by advocates like Dr. Ana Celia Zentella and others to eliminate the term as pejorative and indicated that this decision illustrated that the Census Bureau was listening to the public in making such a change. Patricia Foxen of NCLR, as an anthropologist, applauded the change.


Quality of 2010 Latino Count. We then moved on to an update on when the undercount/overcount figures by racial-ethnic group would be available in order to assess the effectiveness of the outreach efforts in the Latino community for the 2010 Census. Dr. Groves explained that these figures will be available in 2012.


Latino Procurement Issues. The Census Bureau has an annual budget of over $1 billion, and the discussion then moved to promote greater Latino business participation in their procurement program. Alma Morales Riojas ofMANA spoke on the role of Latino media and her discussions with the Hispanic Association of Hispanic Publications who felt that during the 2010 Census advertising that their members, local Hispanic print publications, were underutilized by the Census.


Dr. Groves explained that they were still assessing the impact of their communications strategies for the 2010 Census to see which type of media worked best. He pointed out that they have much more sophisticated data to base their analysis on than before.


On broader procurement issues, Mr. Mesenbourg explained that they had programs to open up more opportunities for small businesses and were willing to explore others ways to create open up the process for greater Latino-owned businesses participation. It was pointed out that the NHLA has trade organizations like the US-Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Hispanic Publications as members, which they may wish to hold follow-up discussions on their procurement program and how to increase Latino participation.  


Census Bureau Budget Priorities. Finally, the meeting ended with a discussion of the Census Bureau's budget priorities and outlook for fiscal year 2012. Mr. Mesenbourg outlined the state of current budget discussions and it was agreed that it would be important for the NHLA to be keep updated on budgetary issues affecting the Census Bureau. It was pointed out that organizations like NALEO, the National Institute for Latino Policy and the Latino Census Network have consistently signed onto letters to the Congress supporting the Census Bureau's annual budget requests.


Dr. Groves expressed a strong interest in following up on these discussions and requested that the National Institute for Latino Policy organize another meeting in the near future. I explained that I hoped to establish a working group on the Census within the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda to provide an ongoing forum for the discussion of these issues.


While the discussion in this meeting was comprehensive, there were many other Census issues affecting Latinos that were not discussed and would be the focus of future meetings. One example is the new supplementary poverty measure developed by the Census Bureau and how it would affect the Latino community. Another is the Census Bureau's inconsistent treatment of Puerto Rico in its statistical programs. While Puerto Rico participates in the decennial censuses and the American Community Survey, it does not with the Current Population Survey. In addition, Puerto Rico is not fully integrated with the Census Bureau's national statistics reporting, so when the Bureau reports that there are now over 50 million Hispanics in the United States, this does not include Puerto Rico, which would add nearly another 4 million US Hispanic citizens to the count.


This meeting with Census Director Groves helps begin a process that will hopefully deepen the Census Bureau's relationship to the Latino community. It will also serve to be the basis for a broader Latino Census agenda that goes well beyond only conducting Latino outreach every ten years. Based on the discussion in this initial meeting, it is also clear that the Latino community needs to pay much greater attention to federal statistical policy in its broadest sense at the Census Bureau and throughout the federal government.


Angelo Falc�n is President and Founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). He is the editor of The NiLP Network on Latino Issues and the Latino Census Network. To sign up for the Latino Census Network, click here.