- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2009

The nation’s black leaders, weary of problems with the U.S. census that have led to fewer blacks being counted over the past decades, called on Obama administration officials to increase their outreach to urban communities as they ramp up for next year’s survey.

The plan to target minority communities is inadequate, but progress is being made to avoid disenfranchisement of black communities in the decennial survey, said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Ben Jealous and National Urban League Chief Executive Marc Morial on Wednesday after meeting with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and leaders of the 2010 census.

The coalition will continue pushing the administration to avoid another undercount by relying on political heavy-hitters rather than celebrities, Mr. Sharpton said.

“When you we see NAACP President Ben Jealous and Marc Morial, we know it is serious. When we see entertainers, we can relax; we know it’s boogie-woogie time. It’s not boogie-woogie time. This is serious time,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Mr. Morial said that the group was happy with steps that have been taken so far by the Obama administration but that not enough is being budgeted to pay for advertising and outreach to minority communities who have been underrepresented in the past.

“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. The ongoing conversation we continued today will be valuable as Census Day approaches and we progress toward our goal of ensuring that every U.S. resident is accurately counted,” Mr. Locke said.

Census organizers are set to begin counting in Alaska in January, and have set a rough deadline for households to return their forms by April 1. After that, census workers are set to begin knocking on doors and begin a paid advertising campaign, Census Director Robert Groves said Monday.

The undercounting of minorities improved between the 1990 and the 2000 census, but 3 million blacks were still missed in the last count, the leaders said.

Republican lawmakers raised concerns earlier this year that the census may use statistical sampling techniques to mitigate the undercounting, but Mr. Groves told members of a Senate panel that he would not use that technique.

Census numbers are used to determine the size and shape of congressional districts and distribution of federal funds.

Coalition members also said they want to see something done to count the nation’s prisoners, many of whom are black, in their home districts rather than the location of the prisons.

“We still think there are significant steps that need to be taken to ensure there is a complete and full count in the U.S. census,” Mr. Morial said.

The group plans to meet with administration officials again after the start of the year.