Asked and Answered

The U.S. Census has appointed Hassan Jaber, the executive director of ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), to a 3-year term on the Census Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations. Census Director Robert Groves said in a press release that Jaber’s experience in the Arab American community will help the bureau develop new ways to collect more accurate statistics. Jaber has helped transform ACCESS from a storefront, volunteer, nonprofit organization into the largest Arab American organization in the country with an operating budget of more than $17 million and nearly 200 employees. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics in 1987 and a master’s degree in Public Administration in 1993, both from Wayne State University, and is fluent in both Arabic and English.

Thorpe: When and how did the Census Bureau and its director realize that they needed input from your community?

Jaber: In the last census, there were local committees established by the Census Bureau to help get input from Arab American communities about how to encourage them — and other minorities as well — to participate in the census and to educate these communities about the benefits of the count.

Thorpe: The Census Bureau has included Arab Americans in the “hard to count” classification. What are some of the reasons Arab Americans might be reluctant to participate in the census?

Jaber: Many Arab Americans are immigrants who come from countries where a census is infrequent or nonexistent. There is also an issue of trust. Just two years before the last census, there was information that the FBI used census data to look into Arab Americans living in the United States, and that is a breach of confidentiality of the census. So there is an environment of mistrust of some government agencies. There was an apology, but Arab Americans and other minority groups are still dealing with the discomfort and mistrust that created. Finally, immigrant communities still need to be educated about the benefits the census can have for their communities.

Thorpe: How would you reassure any community members who are anxious about an increased focus by the census?

Jaber: By frankly asking the Census Bureau to uphold its own laws: Make certain there are safeguards so that confidentiality and privacy are protected. That’s something we need to keep reminding ourselves — that it’s job number one for us to protect communities and uphold the laws.

Thorpe: The census currently has no formal category for Arab Americans. Will you advocate the creation of one?

Jaber: Yes, in addition to the creation of new categories for the many other minorities in the nation. When they see that an accurate count can help their communities, it can build a stronger sense of inclusion.

Thorpe: Are there any population trends you’re already aware of from your experience that you expect to be reflected in a more accurate count?

Jaber: I believe we are going to see rapidly growing population of young Arab Americans, especially those from 18 to 21 years of age. Immigrant communities are growing at a faster pace than the population as a whole.

Thorpe: How will the Arab American community and the community at large benefit from a more accurate count?

Jaber: Detroit was the only urban center in the nation that lost population in the last census and therefore lost a lot of federal money for schools, highways and other infrastructure. Arab Americans are part of this (metro Detroit) community so we’ve been impacted by these losses. We’ve lost representation in Washington, D.C., which is very critical. Private studies say the census under-counted Arab Americans by two-thirds. If this is true, it is a very serious number.