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The 2020 Census is Pivotal for Adult Education

The 2020 Census is Pivotal for Adult Education

NCL has made the 2020 Census its priority issue for 2019-2020. Why? Because, as our members know, an accurate and fair count is essential for adult learners, the programs that serve them, and the communities where they live and work.

Census population counts determine how Congressional districts are drawn, and thus how populations are represented. Businesses use Census data to guide decisions about where to build facilities that can provide jobs. And, according to the Census Bureau, Census data “help determine how more than $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to states and communities every year.” That funding supports hospitals, housing programs, fire departments, food and nutrition programs, road construction … and adult education, through the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA, Title II of WIOA).

Why do adult learners need a particular focus?

NCL’s goal in focusing it work on the 2020 Census is to ensure as full a count as possible of adult learners and their families and codependents. Many of these residents fall into one or more of the groups that the Census Bureau has identified as “hard to count” (and therefore at risk of an undercount). “Hard to count” populations include low-income households, foreign-born persons, people of color, rural residents, and young children.

An undercount of these populations could result in reduced resource allocations and reduced political representation for their communities. By educating adult learners about the 2020 Census and encouraging them to complete it and to share information in their communities, adult education programs can support a full and fair count of the population groups their learners represent. In addition, as trusted institutions, adult education programs and libraries are well positioned to reach the communities they serve with accurate, timely information about the nature and significance of the Census and guidance that helps adults with limited literacy or English language skills avoid Census-related scams and fraud that may target them.

What are the challenges?

For 2020, the Census Bureau has made changes to its procedures for supporting Census completion. These changes are likely to have negative effects on response rates for adults with limited reading and digital literacy skills:

  • The Bureau is emphasizing online response. In most cases, the initial mailing will invite recipients to respond online. Those who lack online access or have limited digital skills will need support to follow up online, and guidance to understand that they can also respond on paper or by phone.
  • The Bureau will not provide instructional materials specifically for use in adult education programs. While the Bureau plans to release educational materials for K-12 students through its Statistics in Schools program, it has no plans to develop materials geared to adult learners as it did in 2000 and 2010. Adult educators will be on their own to adapt or create activities and materials that help their learners understand and respond to the Census and avoid potential Census-related fraud and scams.

In addition, because the Bureau does not yet have an established budget for fiscal 2020, it has had to limit its plans to provide face-to-face support for Census completion. In prior Census years, the Bureau provided for Questionnaire Assistance Centers at libraries and community centers. The American Library Association described the importance of QACs in a February 2019 letter to Bureau Director Steven Dillingham:

“Libraries hosted more than 6,000 Questionnaire Assistance Centers and Be Counted sites in the 2010 Census … Libraries offer ideal locations for Questionnaire Assistance Centers in many hard-to-count communities: 99% of Census tracts with the lowest self-response rates in 2010 are located within five miles of a public library. Furthermore, many residents with lower Internet connectivity or skills will turn to their local library to access the new Internet Self-Response option, and 98% of tracts with poor Internet access are located within five miles of a public library.”

However, for 2020 the Bureau may not be able to support QACs, given the current uncertainties about its funding for fiscal 2020. Because the Senate will not begin work on the 2020 budget until it reconvenes on September 10, passage of the final budget is not likely to happen before fiscal 2020 begins on October 1. As a result, Congress will need to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open until a final budget is passed. The challenge this presents for the Census Bureau is outlined in a case memo developed by the Census Task Force:

“Most FY 2020 appropriations bills will not be finalized until later in the fall (at best), well after the October 1 start date to the fiscal year. … The Census Bureau needs to know at the start of the fiscal year how much money it will have for the entire year, so it knows what efforts it can afford to undertake. Without funding certainty at the start of the year, the Census Bureau could decide it must curtail certain important activities — from outreach and advertising to cyber-security steps to hiring a full complement of census field staff — to prevent a funding shortfall later in the fiscal year.”

The potential adverse effects of underfunding were demonstrated by the outcomes of the 2018 national census in New Zealand, where understaffing of in-person assistance, a focus on online completion, and insufficient support for paper-based responses resulted in a nearly 10 point drop in the response rate, particularly among minority populations: “one of the worst participation rates in decades, with one in seven people filing to complete it.”

What can I do? What can my program do?

You can act at both the individual and the programmatic level.

1. Advocate: Email or call your Senators and Representatives to promote inclusion in the Continuing Resolution of a full year funding anomaly for the 2020 Census of $7.5 billion, as part of Periodic Censuses and Programs account funding of $8.145 billion.

This is the stakeholder-recommended funding level that was included in the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 3055) that the House passed earlier this year. This funding anomaly, if passed, will allow the Census Bureau to plan for the full year of activities and carry out activities that ensure a fair and accurate count. For more information, read the case memo developed by the Leadership Conference’s Census Task Force and share it as part of your advocacy.

2. Participate: Become informed about how the Census is administered, who is counted, what questions are asked (and not asked), how the Census Bureau maintains information confidentiality, and more. Use Census Bureau fact sheets and infographics for information. Plan to complete the Census yourself. Here is the Census Bureau’s timeline for 2020:

3. Educate: Understand your adult learners’ concerns about the Census and preferred response method (online, paper, phone, in person). Use the NCL Census resource list to plan ways to incorporate relevant digital literacy skills and content-based instruction at individual class or wider programmatic levels. The NCL list contains links to teaching/learning materials and community outreach materials developed by a number of organizations, and is updated regularly. In addition, this fall NCL member organizations will be developing teaching materials and related activities specifically for use in ABE/ESL contexts.

4. Stay Up to Date: Throughout the 2019-2020 program year, NCL members will be providing topical webinars and conference presentations to address specific aspects of the Census process and share knowledge and resources designed for adult learners and adult education practitioners. Webinars and conference presentations will be listed here on the NCL website and announced through the NCL listserv with links to available slide decks and recordings.

As we look forward to Adult Education and Family Literacy Week later this month, please join the NCL in advocating and working for a fair and accurate count for #Census2020!

NCL Partners with Census Counts

NCL Partners with Census Counts

As part of its Census-related activity, the NCL has recently become a partner with Census Counts, a collaborative effort that is part of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The partnership includes access to many useful resources and news updates, as well as participation in the Census Task Force. Here are two news updates of interest:

1. The Supreme Court will likely take up the citizenship question on Friday of this week. See this blog post for more.

2. Several bills on the Census have been introduced in the 116th Congress. Two that merit special attention are HR 732, the Census IDEA Act (introduced by Representative Maloney, 57 cosponsors) and S 358, the Census IDEA Act (introduced by Senator Schatz, 18 cosponsors). For a full list of all the bills that have been introduced and links to the bill texts, see the current issue of Democracy Download, the newsletter of Common Cause.

Feel free to read and use the Census Counts resources, and consider signing the #SaveTheCensus pledge!

NCL Takes Action on Proposed 2020 Census Citizenship Question

NCL Takes Action on Proposed 2020 Census Citizenship Question

The U.S. Department of Commerce has indicated that it plans to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census. The NCL and its member organizations are deeply concerned about the effects that the addition of this question may have on the accuracy of the Census, particularly with regard to refugee and immigrant populations, and therefore on the availability of federal resources for programs that serve those populations.

In response, the NCL has taken action in two ways.

1. Signing on to amicus briefs filed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in legal cases on the issue: New York v. Commerce, California v. Ross, and City of San Jose and Black Alliance for Just Immigration v. Ross. For more information, including the text of the briefs and lists of those signing on, see the press releases issued by the Leadership Conference:

2. Submitting a comment in response to the public comment invitation in the Federal Register

The text of the NCL’s comment is reproduced below. For more information and guidance on submitting a comment of your own, visit the website of The Census Project. Note that the deadline for submitting a comment is August 7.

 

_________________

NCL comment on 2020 Census, submitted 25 July 2018

 

Jennifer Jessup
Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer
U.S. Department of Commerce
Room 6616
14th and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20230

The National Coalition for Literacy (NCL) is submitting this response to the comment request on the 2020 Census posted by the Department of Commerce in the Federal Register on June 8, 2018.

The NCL is a national coalition of the leading national and regional organizations dedicated to advancing adult education, family literacy, and English language acquisition in the United States. We envision a society where all adults are able to fulfill their potential and achieve their goals through access to high quality adult education and literacy services provided by an integrated and well-developed system.

As educators, we strongly urge the Commerce Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census form. Including this question will undermine the quality and accuracy of the Census in every community, because households will be afraid to participate, as demonstrated by preliminary evidence from Census test administrators in Rhode Island. Many administrators reported that residents refused to provide personal information because of the decision to ask about citizenship status, despite the question not being part of that test.[1]

Including the citizenship question is therefore likely to put the Census at risk of a significant undercount, especially among hard-to-reach population groups that are already fearful of answering government surveys, according to the Bureau’s own research.[2] These groups include immigrants with legal status and naturalized U.S. citizens, as well as minorities and individuals with lower educational attainment.

We include the two references cited in footnotes 1 and 2 for the benefit of the Department of Commerce in reviewing these comments. We direct the Commerce Department to each of the items cited, and ask that they, along with the full text of these comments, be considered part of the formal administrative record on this proposed rule for purposes of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Throughout our work in the adult education field, we have seen the potential of education and literacy to improve individuals’ lives, break cycles of intergenerational poverty, and empower individuals to contribute actively to their communities. Adult education services—which rely on accurate Census data to apportion resources—provide the foundation for adult immigrants and refugees to learn English and become naturalized citizens, and for these and other adults with low levels of educational attainment to earn high school diplomas/equivalents, prepare for postsecondary education, support their children’s educational and developmental success, and lift their families out of poverty.

The U.S. adult education system provides these services with extremely limited resources; as a result, it is only able to provide services to a fraction of the millions who would benefit from them. The primary source of federal funding for adult education is through Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. A Census undercount would likely result in a reduced and/or inequitable allocation of federal funds provided to states through WIOA. This is especially troubling because the communities most likely to be undercounted if the citizenship question is included—those with heavy concentrations of immigrant families—are among those most likely to benefit from adult education services. Therefore, the National Coalition for Literacy strongly urges the Commerce Department to reverse its decision to include the citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

 

[1] U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). Respondent Confidentiality Concerns and Possible Effects on Response Rates and Data Quality for the 2020 Census. National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations Fall Meeting, November 2, 2017. https://www2.census.gov/cac/nac/meetings/2017-11/Meyers-NAC-Confidentiality-Presentation.pdf

[2] U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). Strategic framework for messaging in the American Community Survey mailing materials. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2017/acs/2017_Oliver_01.pdf.