EDITORIAL — Census: Stand up and be counted

Published 12:08 am Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A year ago the 10-year Census count seemed to be a vital but back-burner sort of thing. Important, yes, but not right away. There were so many other events of importance between then and now, and certainly before next April 1, when the formal population count will be made.

Port Arthur needs to count from zero to 50,000 on April 1, a benchmark that will matter greatly to the city when it seeks federal funding. It’s no sure thing. And Census Day, which seemed to be ages away last year, is creeping up fast. Our city must be prepared to participate fully.

That’s why a Census official met with Port Arthur leaders last week, talking with city personnel and representatives of agencies that can help with the count. Everybody matters.

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Here’s why getting a full and accurate count may be a tougher-than-expected task: Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey sent Port Arthur people scattering in August 2017. Some took refuge with family or friends; some left the city. Are they still here? Will Census officials find them? Will they step forward and be counted when it matters?

Here’s another reason why it may be difficult to get a full and accurate count: Port Arthur has numerous Census tracts where people are historically — and dramatically — undercounted. There are as many as five, she said, where it is suggested that less than 40 percent of the population was counted on Census Day 2010.

City spokeswoman Cheryl Gibbs said those areas are said to be “multicultural mosaics,” common in the urban areas of states like New Mexico, Texas, California and Florida. In those states, multicultural mosaics include “relatively high concentrations of foreign-born residents, as well as low percentages of college-educated people.” Many of those areas include Hispanic people, many of whom shun contact with the government.

The Census Bureau suggests that, “On average, this segment is predicted to respond at a low rate, with a below-average percentage of that response coming online.”

Those multicultural mosaics responded with estimated reporting counts of 24 to 31 percent of the actual population believed to be living there in the last formal count, Gibbs said.

The city says it is determined to count everyone, as it should. But it needs a willing public that will respond when Census representatives knock on the door.

That’s why the city, Census officials and key local agencies were gathered last week. Everyone must know that the official count day is April 1, everyone should be assured that their presence — not their personal information — is what matters in the count. Social services agencies, civil organizations, churches and others should help all people who are living here to stand up and be counted.

They matter, more than they may know.