2010 Census: It's About Power and Money

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The count will likely show the U.S. will be a majority-minority nation in 30 years.

Bobbi Bowman
May 11, 2009

In less than a year, every household in the country will receive a short questionnaire from the Census Bureau, asking about the name, sex, age, date of birth, race, and ethnicity of individuals living in the home, the relationships among them and how long they've lived there.

These questionnaires are the prelude to the best story of our lives --- the story of America in the 21st century.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the census, offered as reminders that this great story looms.

What's the big deal about the 2010 Census?

The 2010 Census will tell what's happened in the last decade but, more importantly, where neighborhoods and communities are going. This census will probably show that the United States will become a majority-minority nation in 30 years. That is historic and mind-bending.

How can this be so? Nearly 45 percent of children five and younger are minorities. That's the future - and that figure reflects an undercount of Latinos, especially those who are immigrants.

Why is the U.S. becoming majority-minority at breakneck speed?

In two words: immigration and aging. Young Spanish and Asian immigrants have flocked to these shores because their labor is needed for both high- and low-skilled jobs. At the same time, white people are aging and having fewer children. Non-Hispanic whites were 69 percent of the population in 2000. They're now 66 percent, and that percentage will continue to fall.

Ninety years ago immigrants who were Italian, Polish, Jewish and Greek changed the face of the country. The 1920 Census showed that for the first time in our history more U.S. residents lived in cities than on farms, because of the arrival of huge waves of European immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. Now in the infant years of the 21st century, immigrants from Mexico, India and Central America are again changing the country's face.

Who gets counted?

The goal is to count everyone residing in the 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, citizens and non-citizens.

Will immigrants be counted?

Yes. The census is about power and money. The more people a state has, the more political power it gets. New Jersey saved a congressional seat in 2000 because of the influx of immigrants, while nearby New York and Pennsylvania lost seats. Many federal dollars are paid out based on population. Governors and mayors want to make sure everyone is counted.

Just a reminder: When the census, which is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, was first conducted in 1790, southerners insisted that slaves be counted. Slaves were not citizens. (See the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.) They had no rights and were considered property like the pigs, cows and dogs. But they were counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of the decennial census.

You said the census is about power and money. What does that mean?

Power: The 10-year Census redraws the political map for the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures. Northeast and Midwest states have been losing congressional seats while states in the South and West have continued to gain them. This is a huge shift in power that Democrats and Republicans understand. That's why it was so important for Barack Obama and the Democrats to finally break the Republican hold on the South in 2008. Obama won Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

Money: Census data are used to make decisions about which community services to provide, such as where to build or close schools, and to distribute $300 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.

Why is everyone in the U.S. counted every 10 years anyway?

One of the great compromises of our history was to establish two national legislative bodies: The Senate, where, regardless of size, each state has two senators, and the House of Representatives, where each state's representation is determined by population. The census was established for the purpose of determining the number of House seats that should be awarded to each state.

Millions of people live in the U.S., so how do enumerators count everyone? 

Census questionnaires will be mailed or delivered to every address in the United States in March 2010. The questions ask for information that is accurate for each household as of April 1, 2010.  The Census Bureau says it should take no more than 10 minutes to fill out the questionnaire. There is no long form in 2010 - just the short form. Mail it back to the bureau. The law says you must participate.

What happens if someone does not mail back the form?

Households that do not respond will be called or visited by a census worker, who can be identified by an official badge and bag. Census workers will never ask to enter a home or ask for bank or Social Security information. They only work during daylight hours, but they do work seven days a week.

Who sees my personal information?

Your responses are protected by law (Title 13, U.S. Code, Section 9). All Census Bureau employees have taken an oath to protect confidentiality and are subject to a jail term, a fine - or both - for disclosing any information that could identify a respondent or household, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

When do the first numbers showing how much the country has grown become available? 

The Census Bureau must count everyone and submit state population totals to the president by Dec. 31, 2010. These totals tell states whether they've lost a congressional seat, gained seats or stayed even.

Last word: Remember, the census is not only about numbers. It's about power and money.



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