The U.S. Census Bureau announced in Atlanta Monday that it will rely on a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, a hiring spree and partnerships to tackle a stubborn problem ahead of the 2020 census: Getting a complete count of African-Americans. JEREMY REDMON/jredmon@ajc.com

Feds seek 100% count of African-Americans for 2020 census

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that Black Men Count is a Fair Count initiative that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams announced in May.

The U.S. Census Bureau will rely on a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, a hiring spree and partnerships to tackle a stubborn problem ahead of the 2020 census: getting a complete count of African-Americans.

There is a lot at stake with the once-a-decade count for Georgia, where nearly a third of the population is black. The census helps determine how many congressional seats a state gets and where more than $675 billion in federal funding is distributed, impacting the economy, housing, public education, transportation and health care.

“We want to count everybody once — and only once — and in the right place,” said Marilyn Stephens, assistant regional census manager for the bureau’s Atlanta regional office. “Our goal is always 100 percent.”

For the 2010 census, the bureau undercounted the U.S. black population by 2.1% across the nation, up from the 1.8% undercount in the 2000 census. In contrast, the agency overcounted the white population by 0.8% in 2010.

Report: Up to 177,000 Georgians could be missed in the 2020 census

African-Americans are more difficult to count because of apathy, privacy concerns, fear of repercussions and distrust of government, according to the Census Bureau.

A national media campaign totaling $200 to $250 million will address those concerns. For example, the bureau will emphasize that census responses are confidential and cannot be shared with law enforcement. Bureau employees must protect the information or face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

The bureau also is seeking to hire 500,000 temporary workers across the nation in 2020. Up to 2,900 of them will be hired in the Atlanta area, including office staff and census takers who will visit households that do not respond to the survey.

Also, the agency is teaming up with local census booster groups and African-American advocacy organizations, including Black Men Count, a Fair Count initiative that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams announced in May.

“It is about representation. It is about making sure that our communities have access to resources,” said Ryan Wilson, co-chairman of Black Men Count and co-founder and CEO of The Gathering Spot, a private membership club in Atlanta. “If we do it correctly, it gives us the opportunity to truly have a voice in our community.”

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