Businesses and nonprofits across Arkansas are working to ensure an accurate count of the state’s population in the 2020 Census. Representatives from groups raising awareness of the Census spoke at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Little Rock Tuesday.
Mireya Reith, founding executive director of immigrants’ rights group Arkansas United, said one big challenge is combating misinformation aimed at hard-to-count populations.
"All over social media misinformation is being put where the brands are actually being stolen from legitimate organizations like the ACLU saying to our immigrant community in Spanish, 'Don't open your doors. Anyone that's coming to your door from the Census is actually going to hand that information right over to ICE, and you will be deported,'" Reith said.
Immigrants are just one of several populations identified by the Census Bureau as hard to count. Others include children, college students and people mistrustful of the government.
Marquita Little Numan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Arkansas, said in-person visits by Census takers could ease the tensions some might feel.
"We also know that it’s important… for people to hear this information from folks that they feel like they can identify with. So we are also working on promoting and ensuring that people are aware that jobs are available through the Census Bureau, especially for those door-knockers who are going out into the communities, because these are going to be people who have not responded," Numan said.
John R. Tyson, chief sustainability officer of Springdale-based Tyson Foods, said his company is setting up in-house centers to complete the Census online for people who could be mistrustful of the Census and would otherwise go uncounted.
"It’s people who don't necessarily speak English, it's people who have had friends or family members that have run-ins with the law, and they also go on the internet just like you and I do and they see what the tone of conversation is like in this country and they don't necessarily feel safe," Tyson said. "[Even] if doesn't impact you directly what's important to remember is, these are your roads and your schools and anything else that the government is spending money on is going to affect you."
Reith says mistrust of the government could risk an undercount in immigrant communities, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled a citizenship question will not be on the Census.
Arkansas receives between $6 and $7 billion dollars in federal funding each year based on Census data. Each person who goes uncounted in the Census represents a loss of about $3-thousand-dollars per year for the next ten years, with even a one-percent undercount adding up to $750 million in lost federal dollars for the state.
Arkansans can begin responding to the Census questionnaire online, by phone or in person beginning in March.