Being Counted Pays Dividends
- 14 March 2010 by Author 0 Comments
Being Counted Pays Dividends
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 03/14/10
Some fear it, while others extol it. The quantification of demographic information is perhaps the most mundane thing the government does, but don’t let that mundaneness fool you. Its results are at the heart of the politics and federal funds allocation for the next several years which makes it even more imperative that the decennial census be accurate and reliable.
Many have fears of the census gathering process. People who are here illegally fear discovery of their status which will lead to deportation (which it cannot, by law) and some fear the data will somehow be used to curtail or abridge their constitutional rights. Yet neither fear is justified as long as the constitutional intent and the US Code upon which the census is based are followed.
Authorization for the census comes from the Constitution itself. Article I, Section 2 of our constitution reads: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” Subsequent US Code, Titles 13 and 26, guarantee the private nature of the data gathered, which should mollify concerns of those who have fears about it. In short, census data cannot be used to prosecute, extradite, or deport anyone living in the U.S.
Not only are the quantitative data generated by the census important for providing the demographic composition of the country, but they’re used to determine how many congressional seats, and electoral votes, each state has. It’s also used in the formulas for distributing nearly $400 billion in federal funds each year.
The 2000 census results led to significant changes in the electoral and congressional landscape. Eighteen states changed the number of electoral votes and congressional seats they have. Two states, New York and Pennsylvania, lost two votes each. Four states, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida, gained two votes each. Four additional states gained one vote and eight states lost one vote. Utah was 86 people short of gaining a seat, which led to a court challenge which later afforded them that seat.
Politicians know how important this process is, which is why the White House announced last year they were going to have the Chief of Staff to the president oversee the census, rather than the Commerce Department, where it has been handled since 1902. This was one of the issues which precluded Senator Judd Gregg from accepting his appointment as Secretary of Commerce. A firestorm erupted, exacerbated by the fact that the dubious group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) was slated to be one of the partner organizations for this years’ census. ACORN was dropped from participation last September. And even though the official census form and correspondence identify the Commerce Department as the source of the census information, I’ve not seen any recantation from the White House that Rahm Emanuel is overseeing the operation which is of concern from a manipulation and politicization perspective.
The 2010 version of the census features one of the shortest questionnaires ever with only 10 questions, and should take all of three minutes to complete. There used to be a “long form” with nearly 100 questions sent out to roughly 20% of respondents, but that is being discontinued in favor of continuous data gathering by the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is a nationwide, continuous survey designed to provide reliable and timely demographic, housing, social, and economic data every year. The ACS will replace the long form in 2010 and thereafter by collecting long-form-type information throughout the decade rather than only once every 10 years.
The 2000 census was considered the most accurate to date with 98% accuracy, according to the Census Bureau. Still, with 2% error, that means roughly 6 million people were not accurately tabulated from the most accurate census yet. That equates to roughly $9 billion not properly allocated because of lost head count.
According to my dear friend Rogerio Castro, who works with the Census Bureau, over 2000 people in Pocatello were not counted ten years ago. That represents a loss of federal revenue of roughly $2.8 million annually for infrastructure, highways, community improvements, education, veterans support, senior citizen support, and health services.
The decennial census is constitutionally mandated, and the results are critical to our electoral representation and distribution of funds to Southeast Idaho. Take the three minutes to complete the census. It’s time for all of us to be counted.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.