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Testimony before the US Commission on Civil Rights given by A. Mark Neuman

I am honored to have the opportunity to appear before the US Commission on Civil Rights.  This organization has played an important role in the advancement of racial equality in our nation.  

This important civil rights legacy was an important part of my upbringing.  When I was two years old, my father, a young clergyman, left his pulpit in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to march with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama.  My father and mother also chose to send my brother and me to a Methodist preschool far from our neighborhood because it was the only racially integrated preschool in our hometown.  These values and this legacy remain with me today.

I am also the child of two immigrant parents—my mother came to this country from Central America in 1960, and now lives in Panama. My father came to this country speaking little or no English in 1950.  I have two younger brothers, both American citizens, who speak and read only Spanish.  So I have a great deal of sensitivity to the challenges we must address to achieve an accurate count of the nation’s growing Latino community.  After all, I am a part of that community and have a personal interest in ensuring that Census 2000 is up to that challenge.

On behalf of my fellow board members, I would like to thank the Commission for allowing me to be here today.  The Census Monitoring Board was established by Congress and signed into law by the President Clinton to ensure the integrity of the census process.  Lorraine Green and I are members of an eight member, bipartisan oversight committee charged with observing and monitoring all aspects of the preparation and implementation of the 2000 decennial census.

I am particularly pleased and honored to be here today with Lorraine Green, who has brought a great deal of insight and leadership to our board.

I also serve with Ken Blackwell, who brings a broad range of experience to our board.  Ken is a former mayor of one of America’s great cities, a former ambassador for human rights to the United Nations, a statewide office holder, and the highest ranking African American official ever elected in the state of Ohio.  Ken Blackwell is a good friend and an esteemed colleague.  I have learned a great deal serving with him.

I have the experience, and I believe, the distinction of being the only person on the eight-member board who worked in a decennial census and worked at the Census Bureau.  I am very proud of that service.  

At that time I was directly involved in the enumeration of some of America’s hardest-to-count neighborhoods.  My experience, which included enumerating persons in homeless shelters, looking for people sleeping on the streets, and finding people who were residing in abandoned buildings on Chicago’s west side, taught me a lot.  So, I am not just an observer or an analyst watching from a distance.  I was personally and directly involved with the decennial census —both at Bureau headquarters and in the field.  

I am proud of the work I did with many people, including Wade Henderson, who is testifying today, and is now the Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.  When Wade was at the ACLU in 1990 I worked closely with he and Mario Moreno, who was serving as the general counsel at MALDEF to defeat legislative attempts to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 1990 census count.  President Bush threatened to veto his own Department of Commerce appropriation if such a provision had been included in that bill.  I have worked on many legislative initiatives in the last 15 years, but I consider this bipartisan legislative victory one of my proudest accomplishments.

Moreover, as someone who was at the Bureau in 1990 and directly involved in the decennial census, I know we could and should have done more in 1990 to count everyone.  The undercount, and particularly the differential undercount, is not an inevitable part of the census.

Make no mistake about it—the Congressionally appointed members consider that a repeat of the 1990 rates of undercount as totally unacceptable.  

I agree that an accurate census is a civil rights issue.  The 2000 census must reduce the racial and ethnic differential undercounts not only in the aggregate—at the state level, in counties and cities; but equally important we must reduce the undercount in the individual neighborhoods where the undercounted groups live.  

The Congressional Members believe that a fundamental goal of the 2000 census must be to dramatically reduce the black-white differential undercount.  We believe the Census Bureau has the tools to accomplish this without the use of statistical adjustment techniques that were prohibited by the recent Supreme Court decision.  

We are convinced that by working together on a bipartisan basis it is possible to dramatically reduce the differential undercount of minority populations without the use of statistical adjustment.  Furthermore, we believe that by working closely with local governments to find the hardest-to-count populations we can count those populations where they really live, and guarantee proper political representation to all those residing in America—especially those who have not been counted accurately in previous censuses.

The real purpose of the census is to not only count everyone—but also to count everyone in the right place to guarantee political representation.

Political representation and vital government funding are distributed according to geographic areas—not demographic groups.  It is the states, the Native American and Indian reservations, the counties, the townships, the cities, the villages, and equally important the neighborhoods and city blocks that count on an accurate census to receive their fair share of political representation and government funding.  

For example, if the census determines how many members of the Latino community live in a particular city but not how many live in a particular census tract, members of the community will be denied political representation where they need it the most.  This is unacceptable.

Let me be clear.  If the Congressionally appointed members of the Monitoring Board honestly believed that the Commerce Department’s plan for statistical adjustment was the only way to reduce the differential undercount, we would support it.  

We are deeply concerned that the Commerce Department’s statistical methodology does not focus adequately on small areas—the neighborhoods.  

The Post Enumeration Survey, the PES, is not some 21st century remote sensing technique as many people would like to think.  The PES relies on a federal government worker, a Census Bureau employee, securing information from a household usually from an in-person interview.  We know that many of the same people who refuse to answer a government census taker are also unlikely to answer questions from a government survey taker, i.e. the PES.  

On the other hand, we know that the Census Bureau has employed proven methods in the past to add those people who are most likely to be missed in the census.  We are not talking about fundamental redesigns of the census.  Rather, we are talking about innovative ways to reach the hardest-to-count populations in the neighborhoods where they live.  

Solving the problem of differential coverage requires a dedicated focus on counting the final two percent of the population that is hardest-to-count.  

Undercounts are spread unevenly over geographic areas.  Statistical adjustments tend to be spread evenly over geographic areas.  

Think about this way: many small geographic areas, neighborhoods like Ward 3, west of Rock Creek Park, here in Washington, may have little undercount, no undercount and even may have an overcount.  But, other areas, like Anacostia (in Ward 8), have large undercount.  

Adjusting the census by a post-enumeration survey takes the concentrated population from the NATIONAL level and DILUTES it throughout the states, the counties, the cities, and the neighborhoods. It adjusts until a specific community of common race, income, and location is spread across the communities that share similar characteristics.

Robert Taylor Homes, public housing along the Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway, will likely have a much higher differential undercount of African-American males than Bridgeport, a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood located just across the expressway.  

Any plan to reduce the differential undercount in Chicago needs to locate people in Robert Taylor Homes, without erroneously creating virtual people in nearby Bridgeport.  Otherwise Bridgeport will benefit unjustly from population wrongfully subtracted from Robert Taylor Homes—the area with the greatest undercount.  And Robert Taylor Homes will not get their fair share of political representation and vital public funding.

The same is true for East Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York—adding Black residents of Caribbean descent to Clinton Hill will not help East Flatbush get its fair share of political representation at the city council level.

The same is true for Anacostia—adding people to Ward 3 will not help Anacostia to get the Head Start center its residents need.

The fundamental goal of the Census should be to count everyone fairly and accurately—and to reduce the differential undercount.

I am not a lawyer; but, the one thing I do understand from the January Supreme Court ruling is that the Census Bureau must be prepared to fully enumerate all persons living in the United States.  

It is now time for the White House, Congress, State and local government officials to put aside partisan politics and work together to count every person in America.

Let me describe the command focus of resources and time we must dedicate to the hardest-to-enumerate tracts and neighborhoods.

The Census Bureau’s research asserts that almost half of the hardest-to-enumerate tracts are located in just 11 cities—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, Houston, Newark, Dallas.  In fact, almost one third of those hardest-to-enumerate tracts are in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

While the Census Bureau may know where the neighborhoods are, about two thousand out of fifty thousand, local officials can help the Census Bureau reach the people living in those neighborhoods.  

Mayor Dennis Archer, Mayor Richard Daley, and Mayor Tony Williams probably know more about finding people in those neighborhoods than any computer program inside the Washington Beltway.  

Mayor Dennis Archer can help the Census Bureau identify where the hard-to-count populations are in his city and work with us to develop the right tools to reach those people.

We can use certain administrative records in a very targeted context to reach special populations—targeting special populations that the Census Bureau’s coverage evaluation studies indicate are the hardest-to-count.

Remember, the hardest-to-count populations in America, those two percent of the over 50,000 census tracts happen to be in the census tracts with the highest rates of participation in government programs.  These records can be an important tool for finding hard-to-count, missed people in the census.  It’s common sense.

People may not have time or interest enough to fill out a census form.  But no matter how busy, and no matter how economically and educationally disadvantaged a low income mother may be, if her child gets sick, that mother knows how to get her child to a doctor.  In Washington, DC and elsewhere, that child must be enrolled in Medicaid to see a doctor.  

The local Medicaid files could be especially useful, when used in a targeted context, to reduce the differential undercount for the District of Columbia’s Ward 8.  Ward 8 is a predominantly Black, low-income neighborhood just minutes from the nation’s Capitol.  The Bureau estimates the 1990 census missed more that 1,800 children in Ward 8.  In May 1998, District officials listed the name and address of nearly 12,000 child Medicaid recipients in Ward 8.

Using administrative records is not some remote dream.  Other countries, including Canada, use administrative records in their censuses. Canada has used administrative records in several censuses as a primary means of evaluating census coverage.  And more importantly, Canada does not use a national ID.  

Finally, I fear language will be one of the greatest missed opportunities in Census 2000.  Originally, the Census Bureau had considered a targeted, initial mailing of in-language census forms to those neighborhoods where we know where there will be high undercounts.  Not doing this is going to be a big mistake.  I understand because as I said before, my younger brothers speak and read only Spanish.  Chances are if they received a Spanish form, they would fill it out and send it in.

We should use proven coverage improvements—including administrative records—to dramatically reduce the differential undercount.  In 1990 administrative records and other coverage improvements added perhaps one million urban and minority community residents to the census.  The Bureau’s decision to eliminate those programs is a mistake.  The Congressional Members strongly believe these programs must be restored.  

We strongly disagree with the contention that only statistical adjustment is capable of reducing the differential undercount.  We have other proven ways of finding the hardest-to-count.

I want to work with the people in this room to make sure that Census 2000 is the census that makes dramatic strides to reduce the differential undercount.

Let me be very candid.  If either side uses issue as a political weapon, then the real victims will be those neighborhoods most in need of an accurate count.

Before appointing me, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott asked me about my views on the census.  We talked at length about the need to work with local communities and to use innovative ways to count the hardest-to-reach populations.  Sen. Lott never asked me about my views on statistical adjustment of the census.  He never asked me which political party would benefit from one methodology or the other.

I strongly believe that both Republicans and Democrats want to make sure that Census 2000 is a fair and accurate census—a census that makes dramatic strides to reduce the differential undercount.  

Anyone who tells you that the Congressional leadership of either party seeks to deny political representation to one group or another is simply wrong.

We all share the same goal.  We all agree that every person living in America deserves to be counted in the 2000 census.  

Congress is prepared to spend the necessary resources to realize that goal.  The time to set aside partisan politics and work together is now.  We must work together to make Census 2000 a better census and a national effort we can all be proud of.  

Census 2000 is just around the corner.  Time is short.  The American people are counting on us to work together to solve the problem.  Let’s not disappoint them.

Briefing on the Civil Rights Implications of the Recent Supreme Court Decision on Sampling and the Census.