Larry Carter II is the project manager at the U.S. Census Bureau, one of the most prominent data management government organizations in the United States. Before that, he was the diversity coordinator at the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School and had a Master of Education (MEd) from Georgia State University. Larry has been happily married for 8 1/2years.
Larry carter II’s INTERVIEW
Why the Census Bureau?
So, when I was leaving education, I wanted to stay in the same vein of educating people, but I wanted to do it on a higher level and have a more significant impact. So, I landed at the United States Census Bureau, which many people don’t realize, is responsible for the Decennial Census, which decides where federal funding is invested. It also controls the power held in the house of representatives. The Decennial Census counts determine how many seats are allocated to each state, which people don’t realize.
“And I thought it was important to really educate people about how these systems work so they can start making these systems work for themselves and their community.”
That’s why I chose the Census Bureau. It was an opportunity to teach people about those things. But then, I was also in a situation where I would be able to hire about 1500 people, and I thought that was an opportunity to send the elevator back down. And when I say send the elevator back down, that means now that I’ve gotten to this floor, I can send the elevator back down for people who need opportunities, people who have been working in their communities I could hire. Now those people could benefit from the work they’ve been doing on the ground.
I see that you’ve been with the organization for almost five years. What is the one biggest challenge the government faces regarding data?
One of the enormous challenges we face is government “Distrust.” People don’t want to give us information because they don’t trust the government, and rightfully so. History teaches us that the government hasn’t always been a good steward towards all communities that are part of the United States. And this is one of the challenges that I’m working to overcome. So, I work in the Office of Strategic Alliances. We leverage our partnerships with different organizations and corporations to reach out to communities, to help them understand that it’s safe, it’s protected, and it’s in your best interest to give us your data. Whether it’s the decennial census, the American Community Survey, the Economic Census that happens every five years, we need you to respond. So, we have all these different surveys happening. The important part for us is the respondents. During COVID, we started the Pulse Survey, which is like getting the pulse (or vitality) of households and businesses.
This is where we had an opportunity to drill down a little bit more because we don’t have to go through Congress for the survey questions. We were able to look at a lot of SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) questions that couldn’t be included in the Decennial Census. This way, we could capture some of the LGBTQ+ community data along with other households. We were able to share things like how much food access do households have and what has been some of the biggest challenges during COVID that households have faced. This data helps local nonprofits, they can really use that data to inform how to best support the communities that they serve.
Hmm! You have invested in yourself and what you do. So, from a citizen standpoint, how do you know that this data is quality?
Well, with our data, we go through a lot of processes and procedures. We have some of the best statisticians working, but also, we must look at trash in and trash out. If we get bad data from the citizens, then we’ll put out bad data. That is why we look at completion rates and everything else when we’re really pushing to make sure that we get the correct information. For instance, during the Decennial Census, we made like seven to ten touches on the door of citizens who don’t answer because we want quality data. We are making sure that we’re getting the correct data, and citizens can look at our processes and procedures on the front and back end. March 10th, we just had our Post-Enumeration Survey (PES) released. This release looks at our data quality, and it measures the accuracy of the census by independently surveying a sample of the population.
The survey estimates the proportion of people and housing units potentially missed or counted erroneously in the census. So, not only do we put out the data, but then we go back and check and say, okay, so this data is 70% because we had to do an imputation for 30% of the population of black and brown people or Hispanic people were undercounted in our data set. We also give opportunities for cities and townships to come back and question the data. If you feel like the population that we have doesn’t match what they have, they have a chance to challenge it so that we can go on record and have that correction done. So, I think having multiple inputs with checks and balances gives you a qualitative quality data set.
It sounds like Americans need to trust the government now with their data. So, does the US government have quality data on black LGBTQ+ people?
That is one of the things that we are working towards, and we’ve been getting a lot of feedback. For instance, the Center for Black Equity, which does all the black pride around the country, is one of our partners. I also work with Dr. David Johns at National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC). I handle the LGBTQ+ portfolio, so I make sure that we have an outstanding balance of LGBTQ partners. We do not have a strong data set on black and brown LGBTQ people due to the questions that have passed through Congress are not as forthcoming. So, we do have teams working to figure out how we can get it through Congress to get more focused data points.
This past 2020 was the first-time same-sex couples could identify, which was a win. We got a lot of feedback that we had an LGBTQ question, but it was for partnered LGBTQ people living together. However, some people are not cohabitating, and some are single, so they’re not being filtered in that process. So, like I said when I talked about the Household Pulse Survey, that was a way to capture some data points on LGBTQ people and households, it is a smaller survey, and it doesn’t take an act of Congress to approve questions. So, you can see in our Household Pulse Survey drilled-down data about black and brown LGBTQ people.
Wow! My last question will be, what quote motivates you to do what you do?
My quote comes from a book I recently finished, “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee. And basically, “the sum of us is greater than the division of us.” That drives me to bring people together because we are stronger together. When you work together with people who are different from you, you tend to bond over your values and your humanistic form, which helps you oversee your differences. By overseeing differences, you’re more accepting of different types of people because you can see that they’re just like you at your core. I believe this allows one to have empathy for people’s experiences. So, that drives me to do what I do because I have the privilege. Even as a black queer man in America, I know that I still hold privileges, and it’s my duty to leverage that privilege. Using my privilege to send the elevator back down, whether it’s for a job opportunity, whether it’s to create safe spaces for people walking down the street and holding hands.
However, I can leverage my privilege, and I will. This is the reason why I do what I do. I can walk into a space, and people accept me at face value. People call it a straight privilege; people assume that I’m straight, and I never claim to be in any way. For some reason, people feel disarmed, and they let their guards down. I can then build that bond that will make them say, Oh, you’re gay. So hopefully, the next time that person encounters a queer black man, they’ll remember the positive experience they had with me and treat that queer black man with the respect, dignity, and honor that he deserves.
Thank you, Larry. I feel so honored to have this interview with you. You are incredibly amazing with so much knowledge about data.
Thank you, Perez.