Getting an Accurate Count

February 22, 2020

“If the Census were easy, we wouldn’t have all of y’all here at 8 in the morning,” says Polly McKinney. She acts as advocacy director for Voices for Georgia’s Children.

This particular morning, she’s a participant in United Way of Greater Atlanta’s thought leadership breakfast known as the “InForum” series. The InForum series is a convening of nonprofit, philanthropic and public partners meant to spur discussion around issues in our community by featuring keynote presentations from national and local leaders.

The day’s conversation features McKinney alongside Executive Director of The New Georgia Project, Nsé Ufot, and Executive Director of the Latino Community Fund (LCF) of Georgia, Gigi Pedraza. The three women gathered to discuss the importance of the upcoming 2020 Census and the critical role it plays in the distribution of federal resources and political representation.

Specifically, they are discussing how that information will influence hard-to-count communities.

According to Georgia Counts, hard-to-count communities vary across the country, but are generally populations that have historically been undercounted and do not self-report as well as others due to difficulties with language, a lack of trust in government or simply because of a lack of communication.

Georgia Counts also indicates that some hard-to-count communities of the past have included people of color, immigrants, young children, renters and low-income households.

And, according to Voices for Georgia’s Children, if these communities remain undercounted they risk losing out on billions of dollars in federal funding, government representation at the state and federal level and infrastructural resources such as highways, hospitals and schools.

Because hard-to-count communities are sometimes referred to as hard-to-count persons, Pedraza emphasizes the importance of the “communities” part of that term.

“People are not hard to count,” says Pedraza. “They are hard to ignore.”

And in the state of Georgia, that notion is becoming truer every year.

Ufot, whose organization focuses on non-partisan civic engagement, voter registration and voting rights advocacy, states that over 2 million people have moved to Georgia in the past decade and that a majority of those individuals are people of color.

As a result, Georgia could gain at least one more Congressional seat, if not two — but only if we are able to achieve a complete count of the state’s population in the upcoming Census.

“Georgia is experiencing what political scientists and demographers refer to as the reversal of the Great Migration,” says Ufot. “All of these people moving back to the American South… have created opportunities in our state that we have not seen before.”

Pedraza states that approximately 9 to 10 percent of people living in Georgia are Latinos and in 2010, Latinos accounted for over 28 percent of the state’s growth.

“Georgia is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic state with multi-cultural, multi-ethnic voters,” says Pedraza. “How are we prepared to serve these communities?”

When discussing the significance of ensuring those people are counted, she states that whether or not her own daughter has a park to play in, a safe street to walk on, or a Spanish-speaking professional to communicate with at her school, hinges on the Latino community’s inclusion in Census counts. Inevitably, it will also influence what her daughter’s future will look like.

“What decision she has is going to depend on all of us and the work that we do,” says Pedraza.

And that’s why all of the speakers at the InForum remain solution-oriented.

When prompted about the most important thing attendees could do to get started on Census advocacy work, McKinney insisted that people “retweet… retweet, retweet.”

“All of us are putting stuff out. We’re making it so you can just pass it around and go viral,” says McKinney. “If you just have time for one thing, that’s what I would ask.”

Her organization has created a body of resources about the importance of the Census and everyone’s participation in it that can be accessed here.

Ufot recommended starting with the community. She shared about how the New Georgia Project begins its work first and foremost by talking with the people they aim to serve, having initiated over 4.5 million conversations since the organization’s inception.

“We want to have a gospel choir approach to advocacy in the state of Georgia,” says Ufot.

Pedraza invited attendees to consider joining a complete count committee – including the Georgia Latino Complete Count Committee, which the LCF of Georgia supports, or any of the complete count committees that have been formed at county, city and neighborhood levels.

At the event’s conclusion, Chief Community Impact Officer for United Way of Greater Atlanta, Katrina Mitchell, emphasized the importance of the 2020 Census to improving Child Well-Being across our region.

“If you layered our Child Well-Being Map with most of those communities with the lowest child well-being and the hard-to-count communities, those would be all the same places,” says Mitchell.

That’s why United Way of Greater Atlanta partnered with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to disburse small grants to outreach organizations, including the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black Child Development Institute (BCDI) – Atlanta, Community Teen Coalition, Fathers, Inc., the New Georgia Project and Project South.

But she emphasizes it will take everyone’s help to make an impact.

“We can connect partners, because I think that will be the huge part of what we’ll have to do, but I want you all to know that we need all of us,” says Mitchell.

If you would like to continue spreading the word about the importance of the 2020 Census, access United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2020 Census Resource page and get involved today.