With the 2010 Census count looming, states are launching their efforts to make sure everyone gets counted in the decennial survey of the U.S. population. But with threadbare budgets and fast-changing demographics, many states face huge obstacles to making the Census successful.
The 2010 Census will be especially important to Southern states. Depending on how the Census count goes, the region stands to gain anywhere from seven to nine Congressional seats and Electoral College votes. A Stateline.org piece today -- based on projections by Election Data Services -- estimates a pickup of eight seats/votes in the South:
PROJECTED CONGRESSIONAL SEAT GAINS FROM 2010 CENSUS
North Carolina +1
South Carolina +1
Census data also determines where roughly 85% of over $300 billion in federal grants and aid to states and localities each year -- everything ranging from health care to law enforcement and, this year, stimulus money.
According to the U.S. Census Monitoring Board, every Southern state was undercounted in the 2000 Census -- causing each state to lose millions in federal funding.
Many Southern states have a disproportionate share of the populations that are historically undercounted in the Census: African-Americans, new immigrants, low-income residents and military families.
This year, states face additional hurdles to getting an accurate count and their share of federal funds. The U.S. Census depends on states to be part of the outreach effort to ensure residents get counted -- but with many states facing massive budget shortfalls amidst the economic crisis, outreach efforts are being cut. The federal government has allocated an additional $15 billion to help with Census outreach, but it still might not be enough.
Another challenge: Widespread economic dislocation -- from job losses to home foreclosures -- will make tracking down residents even harder. Stateline reports:
Families and individuals displaced after
losing their homes often become transient and live in rented spaces,
group housing or mobile homes -- all major deterrents to returning the
mailed survey, according to the Census Bureau.
"The recession mess and the foreclosure mess are really changing the dynamic of population movement in the country," [Kimball] Brace [of Election Data Services] said.
Finally, new immigrants -- whose populations are rising fastest in Southern states -- pose another challenge to an accurate Census count. Many fear that the Census will be used for deportation. That appears to be the motivation behind the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders's call last week for undocumented immigrants to boycott the Census:
The National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders, a
group that says it represents 20,000 evangelical churches in 34 states,
issued a statement this week urging undocumented immigrants not to fill
out Census forms unless Congress passes "genuine immigration reform."
The Census Bureau responded by pointing out that Census workers do not ask about the immigration status of residents -- they merely are trying to get an accurate population count. Arturo Vargas, director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, said the boycott "may be well-intended but is misguided and ultimately irresponsible."