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Stand up, be counted: Port Arthur hopes for accurate census

Port Arthur city officials and community leaders met this week with a Census Bureau specialist to learn more about maximizing the city’s official population count in April.

Port Arthur spokeswoman Cheryl Gibbs said Dr. Delena King, senor partnership specialist, talked with representatives from agencies and organizations that will be significant to getting a correct population count April 1, which is when the Census formally starts.

Gibbs said among those present were representatives from Port Arthur government, city schools, industry, clergy and more.

“The Census 2020 meeting gave us all a chance to understand a little more about the great significance and bearing on the community in which we live, work and play,” Gibbs said in an issued statement.

She and other city officials maintain the city must achieve an official population count of 50,000 residents in order to qualify for important levels of federal funding. That may be no easy task: Port Arthur officials believe that many residents fled the area during Hurricane and Tropical Harvey flooding and devastation in 2017; many have not returned.

Gibbs said King’s hour-plus presentation included topics such as confidentiality in the population count process. She said that’s important because many residents in historically low-count areas are wary of contact with the government and sometimes shy away from being counted.

Gibbs cited several Census tracts from 2010 that recorded low population counts, such as tracts 63, 64, 66, 67 and 69. Many of those were “multicultural mosaics,” she said, whose residents, many of whom live east of Highway 73, shared traits that worked against recording accurate counts.

For example, such said, the tracts have high concentrations of foreign-born residents with low percentages of college graduation. Most are Hispanic.

“How will they respond?” the Census Bureau’s written materials asked. “On average, this segment is predicted to respond at a low rate, with a below-average percentage of that response coming online.”

Those Port Arthur tracts recorded counts in 2010 that were estimated to be only 24 to 31 percent of the actual population. The result: Port Arthur was undercounted in the Census and at risk of receiving less federal funding than it merits.

The city’s goal, she said, was to count every resident. Those who will count residents in April are studying neighborhoods now to determine which housing units are occupied in order to effect a more accurate population count in April.

She said Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie suggested that if Port Arthur’s count fails to reach 50,000, it may yet gain a waiver because of population dislocation due to the flooding. But, she added, the city may be penalized if later Census counts show the city didn’t reach the mandated 50,000.