Down for the Count

Friday, January 11, 2019

The nation’s leading philanthropies are banding together to ensure a fair and accurate 2020 Census

Until a few months ago, Arturo Vargas’s worries about the 2020 Census mostly involved ways to help Latinos get online to fill out their forms. The U.S. Census Bureau is moving online for much of this decade’s required count of America’s population, and Vargas thinks Latino-American participation could suffer, especially in lower-income areas.

“They use cell phones rather than desktops or tablets mostly, and it’s hard to do the forms on those,” says Vargas, chief executive officer of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, which promotes Latino engagement in civic life. NALEO is one of nearly 100 nonprofit, business, and lobbying organizations funded since 2015 by a group of 75 donors known collectively as the Funders Census Initiative 2020, in hopes of ensuring a fair and accurate 2020 count. 

But time is limited, and census problems have proliferated, culminating in increased tensions between the members of the census initiative and census authorities. 

The current national climate over immigration issues has increased overall distrust of government to new heights this year within immigrant communities, and members fear that census data could be illegally abused to target noncitizens for deportation. “The toughest thing to crack is finding trusted voices to overcome the intense fear immigrants have about filling out the form,” says Gary Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation and cochair of the collaborative.