Why the Census Matters

Soa Census worker was attacked, killed, and left with the word “FED” marked on his chest.

Aside from the obvious, why is this a big deal?

First, you know there are a lot of Census survey forms that go out, but in many cases, the actual face-to-face contact by Census workers is crucial to getting anything close to an accurate count of people in this country, especially those who are most in need of government services. I’m not just talking about the decennial census, but also the various surveys like the American Community Survey that Bill Sparkman was working on when he was killed.

Those various counts have very, very far-reaching consequences.The most obvious is in congressional representation–representatives are apportioned among the states on the basis of population as determined by the decennial census.An undercount in one area means potentially fewer representatives for a given state.Add to that the issue of setting district boundaries, with the attendant potential for gerrymandering, and you can see it’s a big deal.

But that’s just the glamorous side of Census. Census data is used by many federal, state and local government agencies to plan services.The data are used to determine if agencies are serving the various demographic groups proportionally (one of the ways I use Census data regularly is to see if my college is attracting hispanic students in proportion to the local population, an issue which can dramatically affect what kind of federal grant funding we can get).

Incidentally, census data are also used extensively by businesses to target advertising, plan expansion, locate new businesses, and many other things. So this isn’t just a government program that benefits DFHs.

Obviously, there are those in political circles who believe their interests are best served by having the Census undercount certain population groups.Hence, Michelle Bachman’s obnoxious tirade back in June about the Census being used to put Americans in“concentration camps.” Does anybody really believe she has a deep and abiding concern for the rights of Japanese-Americans?

Which brings me back to the issue at hand.As horrific and tragic as the story of Bill Sparkman’s death is on its own, it has even more far-reaching effects when it comes to the outcome of the 2010 Census.Any kind of intimidation of Census workers has the potential to suppress the count, not just in the area where the intimidation occurs, but everywhere.Ultimately, when it comes to the impact on the Census, it doesn’t even really matter who did the killing.How many of us would be willing to work as a Census field worker now, whether it was right-wing paranoiacs or drug dealers?

Well, up till the anti-ACORN brouhaha, ACORN workers might have.Thanks a lot, Darryl effing Issa.

Yes, I know–right now there are a lot of out-of-work people who would take this on in spite of the real or imagined danger. But I think the point still stands–the right wing attacks on ACORN aren’t just about hating on that organization for the sake of hate.

Anyway, consider this the BuggyQ PSA–when the time comes, please fill out your Census forms as thoroughly as possible, and return them early. And encourage everyone you know to do the same. The more of us who do, the fewer Census folks who have to go knocking on doors and putting themselves in potential danger.

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