The 2020 Census: Can US Officials Be Sure to Not Undercount Minority Communities?


Grace Walker

The 2020 Census began on Tuesday, January 21. The Census, taken once every decade, is extremely vital in determining everything from government representation to federal spending in areas like education, health care, and food assistance. The United States Census Bureau (USCB) is responsible for collecting data about the population and economy.

On Tuesday, USCB stepped onto Toksook Bay, a remote Alaskan village bordering the Bering Sea, to begin the lengthy counting process. Here, census takers hope they can overcome language barriers, isolation, and government distrust to develop an accurate count of minority groups, which have been miscounted in years prior. Toksook Bay has a population of about 650 people. To access the village, visitors must fly 500 miles out of Anchorage and then take either a snowmobile or four-wheeled ATV into town. Small advance teams waited to see whether the plane, bearing a load of senior Census Bureau Officials ready to start off the national tally, would be able to make it through the thick, winter fog. Steve Dillingham, director of the Census Bureau, says that miscounting those in hard-to-reach villages has been a problem since 1870. This is especially a problem in Alaska because the geography is so vast. 

This year in particular, the USCB is being urged to pay special attention to minority neighborhoods and indigenous communities. In many places like these, traditional census methods have left masses of people to go uncounted. It is estimated that Native American communities and Alaskan natives were under counted by nearly 5% in the 2010 census. To avoid another under count, the bureau is using outside partners to lay any necessary groundwork in minority communities. These new hires are equipped with extensive knowledge of local neighborhoods and cultures and can even speak the native tongue. They are also producing videos in 59 different languages to explain how to fill out census forms. A new advertising campaign, specifically targeted toward minority communities, is being rolled out to convey to people that this process is easy, important, and 100% confidential. Donna Bach, a “partnership specialist” hired last year, is helping to pave the way for the counting in Alaska. Bach said she has already spent months giving presentations to tribal leaders and meeting with local officials to explain why the census matters and how important their participation actually is. 

Despite concerns about not reaching all indigenous communities and people, the USCB is forging ahead with a plan to prioritize an internet-based headcount. Much of the country will be able to opt into filling out the Census information online, and those who do not respond will be contacted by other means. The Census Bureau is working on a tight budget, and the online option offers a cheaper solution, but it may fail to help indigenous communities in Alaska, the majority of which do not have access to WiFi. Reaching remote communities like Toksook Bay may be difficult, as they have no paved roads and the houses do not have addresses. However, the US Census Bureau says they are determined to make sure that everyone living in the United States is counted in this decades census and that the process is more efficient than in years prior.