Black Americans are losing out on important goods and services because they are undercounted in the U.S. Census, say several civil rights groups and Black leaders who want the government to spend more to encourage African-American participation in the 10-year count.
The National Urban League and the NAACP, joined by the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, are urging U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to step up advertising and outreach efforts in such largely Black areas as Newark, N.J.; Oakland, Calif.; parts of Mississippi; and other places where African Americans are hardest to count and tend to distrust the government.
"The undercount of Blacks in the last count and the over-count of Whites by 1 percent is not just a Washington statistic," Sharpton said at a news briefing after the meeting. "It manifests itself in goods and services that cost us. …We want what is ours."
Given high African-American incarceration rates – and the fact that inmates are often shipped to faraway, largely White communities to serve their time – Black leaders would also like the government to count prisoners as residents of the cities in which they previously lived, rather than in the places where prisons are located.
"There are a lot more things that have to be done for us to say that we are confident that this plan can address the historic undercount in this nation," said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and chair of the 2010 Census Advisory Committee.
Locke said that his department would reevaluate how it allocates its $300 million communications campaign.
"African Americans and other minority communities have been consistently undercounted in past censuses so we're grateful to the respected leaders we met with for their commitment to achieving an accurate count," Locke said in a statement.
The population figures, gathered every 10 years, are used to apportion House seats and distribute nearly $450 billion in federal aid.