Census Count Mired in Controversy


med_Pamelas_Mug_copy55Every household in the country received a letter last week announcing that in one week you will receive a 2010 Census form in the mail asking that when you receive the form to fill it out and mail it in promptly — before April 1. Filling out a census form is mandatory by law.

The cost to taxpayers to mail out ‘its coming soon letter’ had to have cost just a few million dollars (but don’t worry it’s ‘government’ money of which they have no concept).

America has already been bombarded with clever census television ads costing in the millions reminding us of the once-a-decade-occurrence when the U.S. Bureau of the Census tallies up our population.  Yes, we know a census count is under way. The letter therefore seemed particularly unnecessary.

The total cost to count a little more than 300 million residents is estimated to be $14 billion, an enormous amount money and since the program is government run, you can absolutely be assured they are spending more than they need to.

The GAO (Government Accountability Office) noted in their audit that the Census Bureau has “insufficient policies and procedures and inadequately trained staff for conducting high-quality cost estimation for the decennial census.” Once expected to cost $11.5 billion, estimates of the funds required to conduct the count jumped last year after a failed effort to equip census workers with handheld computers.

The cost to collect the 2010 data is about $48 per person counted, compared to $16 in 2000 (about $20 adjusted for inflation) and about a penny in 1790 (or 24 cents after 220 years of inflation).

Unfortunately, regardless of the cost the results of the complex collection system are important as they will be used to help each of our communities get our fair share of some $400 billion in government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, Medicaid and other programs that could enhance our quality of life. Another way to put it: Every person counted results in the provision of approximately $1,000 in federal funds for education, housing, healthcare, transportation and other local needs.

The data on age, race and ethnicity, household size and composition helps communities with projections for school enrollment, housing, transportation, emergency services and health care.
Businesses use census data for decisions about where to locate and for marketing purposes.

The census also decides how our congressional districts are divided up and the redistricting and apportionment of congressional seats is contingent on census results. One debate that has been resolved: Census 2010 will not use statistical sampling as many Republican leaders have feared.

Sampling has been proposed as one way to mitigate the undercount of minority populations, the majority of whom are assumed to vote Democratic.

The Census Bureau says the biggest challenge they face in the collection process is ensuring everyone is counted, regardless of where they live, who they live with and perhaps most controversial, regardless of whether they are living in the United States legally.

This year’s census will attempt to count more immigrants and minorities than it ever has, making the process more tedious as typically it’s difficult to get them to cooperate with the count. The economic downturn and the increased amount of homeless and displaced people will add to the challenge.

The census will ask for a count of all of the people who live and sleep in your household, but not those who are away at college, in the military, in a nursing home or who are in a jail, prison or detention facility.

The 2010 Census will have 10 basic questions for each household member, but it is viewed as a burdensome task by some because they see the questions as too personal or the process too intrusive. Others distrust what the government will do with the information or fear that it may be used against them. Some are hampered by language barriers. Others have more than one residence.
According to Audrey Singer, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution the challenges of where to call home have made the census more controversial this year:
— Civil rights leaders, recognizing the unique context of the Gulf Coast region, are working hard to ensure an accurate local Census. At the same time, other regional leaders would like to see displaced Gulf Coast residents counted where they lived before the storms.

— A coalition of African American leaders is lobbying for inmates to be counted in their place of residence before imprisonment.
— A tug-of-war has ensued between Latino leaders on one side who are working to get an accurate count of the population regardless of legal status and those on the other side who are advocating a census boycott by immigrants as a way to put pressure on Congress to move forward with federal immigration reform.
— A recent amendment introduced in the Senate would have delayed the implementation and hiked up the cost of the census, had it passed. In an attempt to exclude the unauthorized population from the official count for congressional apportionment purposes, it would have required questions on citizenship and immigration status for each respondent. That data is not now collected to encourage participation in the census. The senators missed the deadline by two years to make a change of that order of magnitude.

What’s really important in the end is that we need to stand up and be counted. There are just too many resources that are lost if we don’t.

Census Questions for the 2010 Census

The 2010 Census will be conducted on April 1, 2010. The census will ask similar questions as the 2000 Census that included the following: gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship and whether you own or rent your home.  The form is estimated to take less than 10 minutes to complete and will be one of the shortest since the nation’s first census in 1790.

The more detailed socioeconomic information that was previously asked in census collections is now collected through the American Community Survey (ACS).

The launch of the American Community Survey, which is administered continuously throughout the decade, means that the long-form sample questionnaire will no longer be used in the census itself. It is a critical element in the Census Bureau’s reengineered decennial census program. The ACS collects and produces population and housing information every year instead of every ten years. It is provided in several languages including English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.


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