Apr 26, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Census Bureau director wants to ramp up outreach to undercounted groups

Robert L. Santos in July 2021. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images
Robert L. Santos in July 2021. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Robert Santos, the first Latino director of the U.S. Census Bureau, says he wants to remedy the severe undercount of Hispanics by returning to old-school ways, including more door-to-door contact.

Why it matters: The undercount of Latinos in the 2020 census was three times higher than in 2010. Many Black and Native Americans were also omitted from the population tally.

  • Census counts are used to redraw electoral districts and help determine the allocations of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds.
  • That means districts with uncounted Latino households could lose key funding for health care and education programs, as well as food stamp benefits and free school lunches.

Between the lines: The Latino undercount has been attributed to insufficient outreach — especially to promote the online forms — during the pandemic, as well as fear and confusion over a planned citizenship question that was scrapped.

Catch up quick: Santos, a Mexican American, was confirmed in January.

  • His 40-year career as a researcher and statistician includes presiding over the American Statistical Association and co-authoring a paper in 2019 forecasting the high Latino undercount.

What he's saying: Santos will spend most of his time “going out into the communities and talking to stakeholders” to promote participation for 2030 starting now, he said in an interview with Noticias Telemundo.

  • The message about the benefits of participating in the decennial count and other surveys from the Census Bureau needs to be made clearer, he said.

Fine-tuning when and how census takers visit households could improve results for upcoming studies by the group, Santos added.

  • “I think the future for the 2030 census and surveys will involve finding the gaps in the information and data we already have and then going door-to-door to ask people with a better outreach focus."

The bottom line: “With a diverse voice in the leadership of the country’s premier statistical agency we can identify new ways, creative and innovative ones, to collect better data and identify what data isn’t being collected well, what needs to be asked that hadn’t been asked," Santos said.

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