NewsThe NorthSider

Black census workers will be key to counting people of color

ST. LOUIS – For marginal communities of color, which are among those most under-counted in the U.S. Census, signing up for one of the yearlong population-counting jobs at $23.50 per hour amounts to more than income. 

It also amounts to more resources, subsidies and congressional representation for those people. 

That’s because residents, particularly blacks, will be more likely to be counted because they are more apt to respond to census takers who are members of their own ethnic and cultural group. 

Along with inequitable access to information about the importance of the census, historically, mistrust of government ranks high among reasons why many people of color are under-counted. That’s according to Alex Rankin, interim director of health policy for the Missouri Foundation for Health. 

“One of the main reasons has just been not trusting government – people being wary of the process by which the count is conducted,” Rankin told The NorthSider

In the most recent decennial census in 2010, only 81.1 percent of the state’s households mailed back their questionnaires, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

That required more costly, in-person follow-up that people of color are even more likely to shun, making it more difficult to count the remaining 18.9 percent. 

Based on the latest census estimates, approximately 9 percent (or 541,306 people) of Missouri’s current population lives in hard-to-count neighborhoods. 

Approximately one quarter of them did not mail in their 2010 questionnaire. 

Without greater self-response, these and other neighborhoods in the state could be missed in the 2020 census, putting a fair and accurate count in jeopardy for Missouri.

Because of issues such as those, Rankin said:

“I think in 2020, more than in previous years, it is important for the trusted community voices to be the voices that are getting out and really building awareness about the census and how it impacts communities and benefits us all.” 

Rankin also said she was sure that in the past there had been an emphasis on getting out census information to some folks but leaving out others, namely people of color.  

To combat that, the MFH and its funding partners have teamed up with trusted organizations across the region to help spread awareness and host participation events. 

Some of the organizations are the Urban League, Metropolitan Congregations United and the Gateway Region YMCA. 

“If they, in their trusted communities, are the trusted voices that can have conversations and make people feel more comfortable to respond to the census and make sure people understand that there are huge benefits to communities, they respond,” Rankin said. 

The number of people counted determines the amount of federal funds allocated to states. 

Monies are distributed to programs such as Medicaid, student loans and grants, Section 8 Housing, very low- to moderate-income housing loans, WIC, school lunch programs, block grants, Head Start, low-income energy assistance, child and adult care food programs, TANF, unemployment insurance, substance abuse and prevention programs, crime victims compensation and other social services. 

Funds also go toward road and bridge repairs. 

“If we’re not counting all of the folks, whether it’s the kids or adults, we’re not drawing down every dollar that we can for our community … so, it’s really crucial that we make sure that everyone is counted on that form so we can draw down those resources,” Rankin urged. 

Ironically, programs that offer free computer training and usage would receive funds. This is important because as recently as 2018, nearly 19 percent of Missouri households had either no internet subscription or dial-up only, according to the latest American Community Survey estimates, cited by the MFH. 

Furthermore, this year, for the first time, the Census Bureau is urging most households to submit their census responses online via the internet. 

In one sense, the new online response method makes sense given the contemporary, cosmopolitan pervasiveness of the internet. 

However, Rankin remarked that leaders and people trying to conduct outreach and build awareness should understand that this very modern approach may also create barriers to participation.

“Even though we assume that everyone has access … that’s not the case in a lot of communities, especially in urban communities,” Rankin said. She added that facilitators had to think creatively to build access to the technology that people may need to respond. 

For example, she said, the MFH had conversations with school districts about opening computer labs and libraries having more iPads or community centers having locations available for people to respond.  

To learn more about the census, taking it online or becoming a census worker, visit:  or or visit community centers and organizations such as the MFH, the Urban League and local libraries.


Bill Beene Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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