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Remarks of A. Mark Neuman to Federation of Hispanic Owned Newspapers meeting in Chicago

I am honored to be with all you today for the 7th International Hispanic Media Conference.  The members of the Federation of Hispanic Owned Newspapers have an important job. You bring the news and issues of the day to Latino community, including millions of immigrants—the newest members of the American Family.

I understand your important role because my mother came to this country from Central America in 1960.  I am the child of two immigrant parents, like many of you and many of your readers.

Mr. Carlos Carrillo, your President, was with us last Friday at the Census Undercount Summit in Washington, DC sharing his ideas about how to reach members of the Latino community during the Census.  He was a forceful advocate for his members and I can assure you his views were heard loud and clear.

Ken Blackwell, the Congressional co-chairman of the Board, has asked me to share his personal greetings with you, unfortunately he has a longstanding commitment with the Findlay University, and could not be here today.  

The members of the Monitoring Board believe that the number one goal of the 2000 census is to reduce the differential undercount of minority populations.  And we believe that an accurate census is the number one civil rights issue of the year 2000.

The differential undercount of low-income, urban, and rural minority communities must be reduced because political representation and vital government funding are determined by the census.  

We believe that Census Bureau has a good plan for counting 95 percent of the population.  But, we are concerned that the Census Bureau still does not have an effective strategy to count the last five percent of the population that is in hard-to-count neighborhoods.

The Administration says their plan is already set in stone and it is too late to change anything.  Well, we disagree with the Director of the Census Bureau.  We think there is still time to make improvements.  

We don’t need to make these improvements everywhere in the country, but in a small number of neighborhoods—many with heavy immigrant populations.    And we believe there is still time to fine tune the plan and improve upon it.

Let me give you one very salient example.  The Census Bureau disagrees with the recommendation of sending a duplicate Spanish-language census questionnaire to the neighborhoods that the Census Bureau knows are almost exclusively Spanish-speaking.  

Now, in order for a household that speaks only Spanish to receive a Spanish-language census questionnaire, they will have to respond to a letter that comes to their home that is written in English and will have to request a replacement form in Spanish.  Does this make sense to anyone here?

I know that the Census Bureau can and should do much more for Census 2000.  I worked in the decennial census in 1990 and I can tell you from experience that it is not too late.  Some of the most creative and innovative things we did in 1990—granting waivers for residents of public housing who took census jobs; obtaining an exemption of the census wages for Food Stamps recipients; coverage improvement programs to count parolee and probationers; and the first-ever differential pay scale in the Federal government—were done at the very last minute.  

But, in 1990, we should have asked for more help from local communities.  We should have done more.

But, 1990 has passed and I am concerned that there is a lack of a clear strategy to meet the needs of linguistically isolated communities—be they in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Creole, or Russian.  

I am also concerned about the level of commitment toward “neighborhood hiring.”  We’ve said over and over again that one of the most important strategies to reduce the differential undercount is to make sure the person knocking on the door for the Census Bureau looks and sounds like the person answering the door.  It wouldn’t make sense to send a Cuban American into Cameron Park, a colonia in South Texas, to be a census taker.  

What would make more sense is to hire one of the promotoras from Cameron Park—probably a non-citizen—to work in the door-to-door enumeration. You need someone who is not only speaks Spanish but who is culturally sensitive—a member of the community.  You need someone like Gloria Moreno of Cameron Park who knows who lives in every house in her neighborhood and knows the names of the children who are playing on the street.

We are also concerned that cumbersome tests and English proficiency exams will prevent the Census Bureau from being able to hire qualified people from their own neighborhood to work in the census.  

But, the way that the census is set up right now, there are serious barriers to hiring the best people from hard-to-count neighborhoods.  These barriers must be removed because they discourage the very people we need to employ, who are part of the American family, and need to be a part of the census workforce.

The Census Bureau realized this in remote Alaskan villages where census takers have had the testing requirement waived as long as they are working with a crew leader that has passed the necessary test.  This, my friends, is Alaska’s version of the promotoras approach.  It shows the Census Bureau can be flexible and innovative.  So I say to you—what’s good enough for Alaska ought to be good enough for South Texas and, yes, Little Village, Pilsen and Cicero here in Chicago.

We’ve been told over and over that the hiring test actually screens people out.  Asking questions such as the multiplication of 1.5 by 6.3 do not seem geared to determining if someone knows their neighborhood and can fill out a census questionnaire.   Again, this test may be good for 95 percent of the population, but common sense would suggest you suspend it in the hard-to-count neighborhoods.

In addition to removing barriers from the hiring process, people who take temporary jobs with the decennial census should not have their Food Stamps or other benefits reduced.  This is very important.  If a waiver for public housing residents and Food Stamps recipients is not secured, then the people we need to count in public housing, in immigrant communities along the border, are not going to be able take jobs with the census.  The Administration can remove this barrier without legislation, they have the authority to do so right now.  So, I ask my friends in the Administration, “what are you waiting for?”

And the another issue that we have heard over and over again is that the Census Bureau needs to reduce fear.  Even with the best enumerator, the fear that the information will be shared or that the Immigration and Naturalization Service will follow an enumerator has a chilling effect for many people and in many communities.  We have heard this from countless people living in these communities—in El Paso, in Sacramento, in New York City, in Laredo, in Miami, in Washington, DC—who have asked us to recommend that the Administration impose a moratorium on certain enforcement actions known as “neighborhood sweeps” conducted by the INS

And also let’s talk about something everyone in this audience understands—the allocation of resources.  In other words, how we divide the pie.  

I want to commend the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, for his leadership working with the Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott in securing passage of a $4.7 billion census budget for 2000.  It’s important for everyone in this room to understand that despite funding constraints every penny of the Administration’s request for census funding was approved by both the House and the Senate.    The President has vetoed that bill for reasons not related to the Census Bureau and I’m certain the issue will be resolved.

But the big question is “how will the money be spent?”

The General Accounting Office could not “assess the efficiency or effectiveness of the Bureau`s plans to conduct the 2000 Census or validate the Bureau`s data and assumptions used to develop the budget request.”   The GAO also said that “$1.05 billion (23 percent) was calculated outside the [cost] model.”   For those of you who do not understand Washington-speak, they haven’t accounted for the money.  

So my question is “if we can fence off $154 million for Young and Rubicam to develop an advertising campaign, why can’t we fence off a significant portion of the census funding, that according to the GAO is unaccounted for, to be used exclusively for innovative, locally-based initiatives, in hard-to-count neighborhoods?”
  • Initiatives like advertising in specialty publications like the ones you own and operate
  • Initiatives like having Regional Offices have funding available to community-based organizations that are helping the Census Bureau facilitate a better count in hard-to-count neighborhoods
In other words, let’s take a small portion of the $4.7 billion and get that money out of Census Bureau headquarters and get it to the Regional Offices and Local Census Offices where it can be put to the best use.

And finally, there are the questions that the Census Bureau has not answered regarding the Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation or ACE.  This is what they will use to adjust the census—and a lot of people are counting on it because they know that the Census Bureau will not be able to count every person in every neighborhood.

These are questions that directly affect the Hispanic community.
  • Will the ACE enumerators speak Spanish?
  • Will these enumerators possess the cultural sensitivity necessary?  In short, will the Census Bureau hire the residents of these communities?
  • And lastly, but certainly not the least, will the ACE questionnaire be available in Spanish?
I want to emphasize that I have extraordinary respect for the career professionals at the Census Bureau and the purpose of my comments here today is not to criticize the Bureau, but to help the Census Bureau.  I want to improve the census, especially in hard-to-count neighborhoods that depend on an accurate census count in their census tract—which is basically a neighborhood of 3500 people.  

Everywhere I go in the country—Texas, the Mississippi Delta, Robert Taylor Homes, Anacostia—people are much less concerned with how many people get counted in their city, but are more concerned with how many people are counted in their building, block, neighborhood, or Ward.

We know that statistically estimated adjustment will not FULLY eliminate the undercount at these levels of geography and that means an elementary school will not get built, a Head Start Center will not get funded and a health clinic may have to close.  And this is why the census matters to real people, especially those who are economically disadvantaged.

So, there you have it.  Our agenda—neighborhood hiring; eliminating barriers to hiring; allocating more resources to hard-to-count neighborhoods; and especially making sure members of our American Family who speak and read only Spanish—people like my two younger brothers—can obtain a Spanish-language census form without having to respond to a letter that comes to them in English.

The Bureau says it’s too late to do these things—even in the small number of neighborhoods where this matters most.  We disagree and we are going to fight for what we think is right, because we think ensuring fair political representation, the most fundamental right of every American, is worth fighting for.