EDITORIAL: Census jobs could be chance to relay residents’ concerns

This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. (Michelle R. Smith | The Associated Press)

The U.S. Census Bureau has begun building its staff in preparation for the 2020 national decennial population count. This month and next, the bureau will hold job fairs in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere to hire people who will help promote and execute the count, including going to homes and gathering information directly.

In addition to the job fairs, people interested in working for the bureau can visit www.2020census.gov/en/jobs to gather more information or to apply.

Census officials say they will hire about 8,000 people in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties. Applicants should be U.S. citizens at least 18 years old who can speak English and have their own transportation so they can visit local neighborhoods. The ability to also speak Spanish and basic computer skills are preferred.

Workers are needed particularly in areas like the Rio Grande Valley, where participation traditionally has been low.

Many immigrants and their descendents have expressed wariness about giving personal information to the government. They fear that it makes it easier for immigration officials to locate people who might be living here illegally. That’s always made accurate counts a challenge in border areas like ours; local counties and others have filed lawsuits following recent counts alleging undercounts resulting from high numbers of residents who didn’t send in their census forms.

Census workers will have to face the challenge of easing residents’ fears and convincing them of the need to participate in the census, which counts all residents, regardless of immigration status.

We hope that the agency also will allow those workers to relay residents’ concerns and listen to ground-level suggestions that might improve the process and help achieve the goal of an accurate count.

Undercounts most directly affect local communities by reducing government allocations from infrastructure grants to disaster relief. Much of that money is allocated nationwide according to the number of people it will help.

But the primary purpose of the census, as prescribed in the Constitution, is to determine representation in government bodies at all levels. After every census districts for the U.S. and state houses of representatives are redrawn so that each member represents roughly the same number of people. In growing areas like South Texas, that can mean more seats — and thus more influence — in those bodies.

Districts in city and county commissions and other local bodies also are redrawn following the census.

That representation doesn’t just affect funding allocations. It could sway the results of close votes, and with much of the current attention focused on the border, it could determine whether or not the border wall actually gets built, and how immigration issues and even trade issues that can affect the border economy are decided.

We encourage those interested in helping make the upcoming census more accurate to gather information about the process and, if possible, contribute to making the Valley’s numeration as accurate as possible.