Wednesday, June 06, 2007

you incense us, cenus

The chairman of the African-American Advisory Committee to the U.S. Census said today that more than 700,000 blacks were not counted nationwide in the 2000 Census.

Whoa! A teeny blurb I happened to come across in my daily Google news search, but what a huge number of people! Upon doing a little research on this, I realized this was old news, but back in 2002 when the numbers were released, I was not paying attention.

The 2000 census reported the number of African-Americans living in the U.S. to be 36.6 million, or 12.3% of the total population. So 700,000 or 750,000 people, as other sources claim, means nearly 2% of the black population went uncounted.

It is typical of a census to undercount the poor and minorities. However, in the 2000 census, Blacks were undercounted at a rate almost twice the national average. While about six million Americans, most of them poor or of color, went uncounted in the last census, three million Americans were counted twice. The latter population, predictably, tended to be affluent and live in suburban areas. Still, the 2000 census was more accurate than the previous.

This undercounting is significant in so many ways. Census results are used to allocate Congressional seats ("congressional apportionment"), electoral votes, and government program funding for schools, crime prevention, health care, and transportation.

As PBS's NewsHour Extra webiste geared towards kids puts it: "Census numbers determine 80 percent of federal grants and the number of states' congressional representatives. Whoever has the people gets the money and the representatives, so poorer urban areas, and extremely rural areas, which tend to be undercounted, are likely to be denied millions and underrepresented."

Why are people of color disproportionately undercounted? provides this answer:

There are several reasons why people of color and the poor are consistently and disproportionately undercounted by the census including: 1) mail and door-to-door collection methods have lower response rates in lower income areas; 2) lower education levels , illiteracy, or difficulty with the English language affect the ability of many individuals to understand the census; 3) a general misunderstanding of the importance of census participation; and, 4) distrust or suspicion of government leading to the fear that the census may be used by immigration and/or law enforcement officials to deport or incarcerate or may disqualify one for social welfare programs.

There is, of course, plenty of reason to be suspiciuos of the government and of the way that census data may be used to oppress or disenfranchise people. Census data has been used for all kinds of dirty purposes.

For example, the 1990 US census data, along with the records of 439,381 Northwest passengers were used by Northwest Airlines to find "'outliers', people that do not conform to predetermined norms and therefore could be a 'threat'," as reported on Don'

Apparently, "the Northwest Airlines passenger data was turned over by the airline, without the knowledge or permission of the passengers concerned, and given to NASA's Ames Research Center." In other words, the government used census data to single-out and profile Americans.

So, how did the 2000 undercount, specifially, affect policy?

In January 1999, the Supreme Court ruled out the use of statistical sampling to adjust the 2000 census to make up for an expected undercount. As CNN reported, "the 5-4 ruling was a defeat for the Clinton administration, which had hoped statistical sampling would add population -- and subsequently House members -- to areas that traditionally vote Democratic."

The CNN article continutes: "The ruling specifically barred the use of statistical sampling for apportionment."

Numerous interest groups worked to challenge the 2000 census. These groups were less concerned with apportionment and more with the "distribution of federal and state aid; particularly federal block grants," write professor Swanson and Walashek in their paper entitled, The Historical Roots of Contentious Litigation Over Census Counts in the Late 20th Century.

They continue:

The appropriated federal block grants for Native American housing in 2003 totaled $649 million with an additional $4,937 million for community development. It is easy to see why more than 100 Indian tribes, complaining of undercount, challenged the 2000 census results and conducted their own head counts. The tribes pointed out that the 2000 census counted 3,334 people at Warm Springs, Oregon, of which 3,018 were Indians. According to tribal registries however, 3,220 tribal members live on the reservation, suggesting that the 2000 census missed 504 Warm Springs tribal members, for an error undercount rate of 14 percent. “We’re being shorted on funding,” they said. “The numbers [the Census Bureau] have are totally inaccurate. We’re doing our census to get the money we’re owed.” This sentiment is not confined to residents of the Warm Springs Reservation.

Is there hope for improvement in the responsiveness during the next census? With the anti-immigrant sentiment growing, the tragedy of Katrina, and the echos of Black voter disenfranchisement in the last major elections still reverbarating; with the increasing erosions by this administration of Americans' civil rights and its incessant appetite for spying on its own citizens, I don't see how trust between the government and the undercounted groups could possibly be increasing.

Is there a chance that accuracy of the count in the 2010 census could improve? According to the New York Times, the Census Bureau requested $18 million for the 2008 budget, so "it can begin its partnership program, part of strategy to improve undercounts for minorities," but the Bush administration allocated nothing to the Bureau for those purposes.

As blogger bobster writes on the statesman blog, "the 140,000 partnerships the Bureau established before the 2000 census resulted in better minority counts, reducing African-American undercounts from 4.57% to 1.84%. Undercounts for Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans (also diminished - my editorial change). The partnerships were with state, local, and tribal govenments, churches, schools, corporations, and community service groups. To refuse to fund these partnerships in the coming census means the Bush/Cheney/Rove government prefers that only white people get counted and that the count leans heavily toward Republicans."

I couldn't have said it better.

The census is such a double-edged sword. Communities need to be accurately counted in order to be allocated the funds to which they are entitled, but who's supposed to trust Big Brother when he acts like The Great Dictator?

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