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Terry Anne Straus

KEY WORDS: American Indians, Cambodians, Chicago, ethnographic, Indian identity, settlement patterns, inner city neighborhoods, nomadic youth


The primary sources of minority undercount were missed people in missed housing units and inaccurate or incomplete demographic data for "race" or ethnicity. Here the census missed many occupied living quarters, as in other ethnographic evaluations sites in inner-city locations with characteristics similar to this Chicago site: poverty, high vacancy rate, boarded up buildings, high rates of residential mobility and building conversions (either abandonment or gentrification). "It is reasonable,then, to suggest that enumerators and outreach personnel in the next census be prepared to focus on the problem of identifying and enumerating all housing units.. (prior to) enumerating ". They need to be aware of the incongruity between housing units and mailboxes. They need to learn to expect the unexpected in terms of building plan and to be very careful about locating housing units within buildings. They need to be aware of the potential for unusual residences such as cars and of the likelihood of squatters in apparently abandoned buildings. It is important that enumerators not rely on administrative records in such neighborhoods as change is so rapid and building managers usually so distant that the records tend not to reflect reality."

Some American Indians enumerated were not identified in the census as American Indians. Straus notes "American Indian people are most likely to identify clearly as Indian in the context of interaction with another Indian. Because of the non-localized nature of the Chicago Indian community, Indian people are frequently not recognized by their neighbors as such and may not be concerned with asserting their Indian identity. A non-Indian enumerator, then, working from appearance or from a neighbor's testimony might well misjudge the racial classification of Indian people. A special and interesting issue relating to the undercount of American Indians is the nature of Indian communities in Chicago, other Indian communities and on reservations around the country. Indian communities are not localized in the manner which might be expected... Indian people live widely scattered through the city and (especially southern) suburbs and nowhere in concentration significantly greater than that found in the ethnographic site. Concentrations of 20% American Indian population on a single city block simply do not occur in Chicago. The Indian community here has a center but no external boundaries... The mobility and ambiguous or unconventional residence of young, single Indian men makes them the most likely individuals to be missed by the census. When this area was originally selected, young Indian men were living in a boarded up building and in cars in the back alley: these squatters were gone before the enumeration began. The mobility and indefinite residence of young Indian men is a cultural pattern with some historical precedent and one which certainly is relevant to the undercount of American Indian people in cities as well as on reservations. They are not "homeless" -- they are nomadic and thus very difficult to count.

Citation: Straus 1991, Ethnographic Evaluation of the 1990 Decennial Census Report # 2. Final Report, Joint Statistical Agreement 89-37 with Native American Educational Services College at Chicago, Illinois. Leslie A. Brownrigg (Technical Representative)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or chad.eric.russell@census.gov) |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010