WATCH: Marc Morial Testifies to the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform on Reaching Hard-to-Count Communities in the 2020 Census

By National Urban League
Published 02 PM EST, Mon Jan 27, 2020


Good Morning, Chairwoman Maloney and Ranking Member Jordan.  I am Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League.  Thank you for this opportunity to testify on Hard to Count Communities and the 2020 Census.  

Founded in 1910, the National Urban League was established as a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of African Americans and other underserved populations. We conduct our work through a network of 90 Affiliates across 36 states and the District of Columbia, and a Washington Bureau. The National Urban League proudly serves 2 million constituents each year. 

Today, I will speak briefly about the undercount of African Americans, our challenges in the upcoming Census, and how the National Urban League is mobilizing for an accurate count.

Thank You for Fully Funding the 2020 Census

I would like to thank the committee first, for ensuring a fully funded 2020 census. The Census has been underfunded for much of the decade, causing significant operational and IT delays, recruitment and hiring challenges, and cancellation of critical tests to improve the 2020 Census count. Your leadership on this issue is in the best interest of the American people who are entitled to an accurate count.

The Browning of America

Urban League Affiliates have witnessed the browning of America in real time; from California to Connecticut.  Similarly, we have witnessed the growing needs of our communities, as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.  We see the true faces of the undercount every day: Black and Brown children, the formerly incarcerated, Black immigrants, the homeless and gentrified; the digital illiterate and digital homeless…those with no Internet address or access, to speak of. 

The Census is a Big Deal

 The census has been a big deal for the National Urban League for decades. Fifty years ago, in 1970, my predecessor, former Urban League, Executive Director, Whitney Young, Jr., testified before the then, Subcommittee on Census and Statistics; Committee on Post Office and Civil Service.  At that time, he spoke passionately about the need for a full and complete count of Black and underserved communities in the 1970 Census.  His testimony about the 1970 Census sounds oddly familiar:

  • inadequate assistance for completing census forms  
  • poor community educational outreach
  • the lack of Spanish language forms
  • inadequate community outreach and education to reach “minority” populations
  • The prior 1960 Census which missed one in ten Black people, including one in six Black men

Fast Forward to 2020: Many Parallels to 1970

There is much to applaud about the 2020 Census especially the technological advancement and operational modernizations.  Still, the National Urban League and my co-panelists see many parallels to the 1970 Census and even more uncertainties:

  • In 2010, a million children, disproportionately Black and Brown, didn’t show up in the Census.    An alarming six out of 10 Black children between the ages of 0-4 years old were missed. The undercount of Black and Brown children has grown exponentially each census. The economic and political consequences of such an undercount have extraordinary and long-term consequences.
  • African American men are still missed in staggering numbers—almost at every age.
  • Approximately 700,000 formerly Incarcerated men and women (disproportionately black and brown), re-enter our communities each year.  We must count them. 
  • We must count the digital divide in rural and poor Black communities, and those with low digital fluency, who require a paper questionnaire and an enumerator’s knock on the door.
  • We fully anticipate disinformation social media campaigns designed to mislead communities of color about the census and sow seeds of fear about Census participation.
  • Community outreach and education has been hampered by a failed citizenship question which heightened government distrust and fear of the Census in immigrant communities. 

Gaps and Concerns Despite 2020 Census Improvements

The National Urban League has partnered with the Census Bureau to help achieve an accurate 2020 Census count. We commend the rank and file staff, the regional offices and partnership teams charged with conducting the census. I don’t envy them.

There are still major gaps regarding Census “coverage” of African American communities that will contribute to an undercount:

  • Significant hiring delays and backlogs will impact door-to-door enumeration in the Black community.  According to the Census, the Bureau must recruit approximately 2.7 million applicants to hire 500,000 enumerators to knock on doors.  The Black population will need a robust field footprint to ensure an accurate count.
  • Hiring delays hurt “indigenous” community hiring.  Hiring within communities of color builds trust in the census and increases census participation. Hiring delays hurt our chances for an accurate count.
  • 2020 Census media campaign for African Americans is not fully developed; The National Urban League supports and applauds the work of 2020 Census Communications subcontractor, Carol H. Williams Advertising who has created exceptional 2020 Census TV ads targeting the Black population. 

The scope of the Black advertising campaign is limited, however, and must be expanded to include increased media coverage for Black immigrants, and additional funding for newspaper, radio and digital advertising. All avenues of paid media must be reflected, especially in critical Hard to Count markets: Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and especially the South.

  • 2020 Census paid media ads place disproportionate emphasis on Internet participation vs. Nonresponse Follow-up. Paid ads during Nonresponse Follow-up are few and short-lived.  At least 40-60 percent of Census respondents will be enumerated during Nonresponse Follow-up—especially within the Black population. The 2020 Census Ad Campaign ends in late June/early July. Non-Response Follow Up ends July 31, nearly a month later, with little to no media push.
  • Census Plans for Mobile Questionnaire Assistance are vague and behind schedule. Congress provided “not less than $90 Million” for Mobile Questionnaire Assistance Centers in the 2020 Census and directed the Bureau to “devote funding to open local questionnaire assistance centers in hard-to-count communities.” Census has yet to develop a plan for mobile QACs nor fully engaged stakeholders on their plans. More transparency and coordination are needed to ensure the strategic placement of mobile QACs in undercounted communities.   

Conclusion: Make Black Count

Two years ago, the National Urban League established a 2020 Census Black Roundtable of civil rights organizations, advocates, and national leaders, to mobilize collectively for an accurate count.

Last October, the National Urban League launched a “Make Black Count” initiative to increase awareness about the 2020 Census.  We held a 2020 Census National Tele-Town Hall virtual meeting to speak with communities across the country about the importance of Census participation. Former Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Founder, Fair Count, was our featured speaker, as well as Congressman Horsford, Chair, Congressional Black Caucus 2020 Census Task Force. 

We are planning another 2020 Census Tele-Town Hall in early March, before Census letters are mailed to the public.  We invite you to join us for this important National teleconference.  It is free and open to the public.  Next week, we will post additional information on the call at

Thank you for your time this morning.  The National Urban League stands ready and willing to help you in any way possible to achieve an accurate count of all populations.