Researchers with the Urban Institute say Nevada is among the states most at risk of a miscount in next year’s census.
The state’s fast growth, diversity, and transient population all make an accurate count more of a challenge.
“The reason is basic demographics. The population of the U.S., and that especially includes Nevada, is over time is becoming a more diverse society,” Urban Institute researcher Rob Santos told KNPR's State of Nevada. “The growth in the diverse population also brings with it something that challenges the Census Bureau every decennial census and that’s that there are hard to count individuals out there.”
Santos said that counting people living in their own homes the suburbs is relatively easy but counting people living in rental housing tends to be more difficult. In addition, those communities tend to be non-white communities.
“We expect there to be a heavier burden for counting in Nevada for the 2020 census, and therefore a higher level of undercount,” Santos said.
And adding uncertainty to the mix are the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to next year’s census, a move that some fear would deter immigrants — some 140,000 live in Nevada — from being counted.
The Supreme Court recently blocked that question, saying the Trump Administration’s rationale was “contrived.” But President Trump is expected to renew the push for the question through executive action.
Santos said the concern of those opposed to the citizenship question is that people will not answer any census questions for fear of the information being reported to immigration officials.
“The Census Bureau itself has documented the fear and mistrust of government by immigrants and Latinos through its own research," he said, "We know that if that question is included there will be an even harder time to get people to participate because of that type of fear.”
While people might fear citizenship information being sent from the Census Bureau to immigration officials, Santos said there is a clear rule against sharing any information gathered in the census with the rest of the federal government.
At risk, if Nevada is undercounted, is appropriate representation in Congress and the Electoral College, and federal dollars allocated based on census data.
“The end result is that when it comes to redetermining the apportionment of congressional seats Nevada would be at risk," Santos said, "When it comes to determining the number of electoral votes in the Electoral College, Nevada would be at risk."
Krystal Minera is the outreach director for Palara De Vida Ministries, a bilingual church in Reno. The church connects Spanish-speaking residents with law enforcement. She also works for Radio Vida, a Reno-based Christian radio station.
Minera said many people in her congregation are not even aware of the debate over the citizenship question.
“I think because we’re basically on a week-to-week basis as far as just being on our toes about what’s going to happen with immigration, what’s going to be said. I don’t know that they’re as concerned as they should be at this very point in time,” she said.
But as the census gets closer, she believes more people will become aware of the issue.
She believes the best way to avoid people not participating is education.
“If they are not informed as far as why the census exists, why it’s important, then I do believe they’re going to go off just common information and will not be a part of it, will not participate in it,” she said.
Sparks Councilman Kristopher Dahir, who serves on Governor Steve Sisolak’s Complete Count Committee, agreed that communicating the importance of the census is vital to everyone.
“We have to be really wise and let them know this is part of how we help take care of all of our populations,” he said. Federal dollars allocated because of the census cover everything from education to homelessness.
Along with difficulties counting minority communities in the cities, those living in the state's sparsely populated rural areas can be difficult to reach as well, Dahir said.
“Our rurals are just as important as all of it and that actually is almost more difficult than even going and knocking on the door of someone who doesn’t want to open it because the rurals are so spread out and then some of them have government issues,” he said.
The committee is planning a media campaign to inform people about the census and a grassroot campaign through faith-based, education, and business organizations to make sure people fill out their census forms.
Rob Santos, researcher, Urban Institute; Krystal Minera, outreach director, Palabra De Vida Ministries in Reno; Kristopher Dahir, member, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Complete Count Committee.
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