CensusTaker.pngAs the 2010 Census approaches, states and community groups across the country are organizing efforts to ensure accurate counts.The information gathered in the 2010 Census will be used to determine the distribution of some $300 billion in federal funding to state and local communities. The numbers will also help determine the redistricting of local districts and voting precincts, as well as the reappointment of Congressional seats.

As Facing South reported, the decennial count could pose a challenge for the South and other parts of the country facing budget crises and fast-changing demographics. Southern states have been undercounted in the past, resulting in the loss of millions in federal funding. Many Southern states also have a disproportionate share of the populations that are historically undercounted: African-Americans, new immigrants, low-income residents and military families. Simply put, undercounting means these communities and populations do not get their fair share of public funding, an increasingly important issue in the midst of the country's deepening economic troubles.

Community groups point out that when funding doesn't reach cash-strapped communities, vital infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and disaster preparedness programs suffer. Undercounting also decreases the political power for marginalized groups since legislative redistricting and representation in Congress is governed by population numbers.

In the Gulf Coast, which is still struggling to recover and rebuild from the hurricanes of 2005 and 2008, the Census will play an important role in determining the amount of dollars flowing to the region over the next decade. The mass displacement and depopulation in the region resulting from the 2005 hurricanes presents a unique challenge. As a result, Gulf Coast advocates say that it is important that residents, especially those displaced or temporarily living in other states, be counted.

Census.jpgLast month the Louisiana nonprofit Moving Forward Gulf Coast and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund launched a joint public awareness campaign around the 2010 Census, aimed at ensuring an accurate count for communities along the Gulf Coast.

According to Moving Forward Gulf Coast, without an accurate count communities stand to lose critical dollars, which would only hurt continued rebuilding and recovery efforts in the region. For instance, community advocates underscore the importance of an accurate census to Louisiana's post-Katrina recovery, where an undercount by even several thousand people could lead to the loss of millions of dollars in aid to parishes that are badly in need. Political observers already predict that Louisiana will lose a seat in Congress after the 2010 census.

Groups like Moving Forward Gulf Coast also support the right of return for those populations internally displaced by the 2005 hurricanes. Below is a letter sent by Moving Forward Gulf Coast on June 15, 2009 to Congressman William "Lacy" Clay (D-MO), requesting a hearing to count displaced residents at their pre-Katrina residences:
As advocates for rebuilding strong and inclusive Gulf Coast communities in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and subsequent storms, we are very concerned about the U.S. Census Bureau's ability to achieve an accurate count of Gulf Coast residents in the 2010 census, especially in low-income, Black, Latino, and Asian American communities. We respectfully request your consideration of a subcommittee hearing - perhaps in a Gulf Coast city, such as New Orleans -- in order to fully air and address these concerns during the final months leading up to the 2010 count.

It is well known that the decennial census is more likely to miss people of color and the poor than other demographic subgroups. The destruction of entire communities and displacement of thousands of residents along the Gulf Coast during the hurricanes of 2005, coupled with the slower pace of rebuilding and return-migration in poorer neighborhoods, compounds the usual difficulties the Census Bureau faces in enumerating so-called "hard to count" populations groups. According to the January 2009 New Orleans Index, "massive destruction from Hurricane Katrina remains widespread ... Hundreds of streets are still in disrepair. Tens of thousands of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings remain damaged and unoccupied." According to the Census Bureau, Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish and Orleans Parish were among the nation's fastest and third-fastest growing parishes, respectively, between 2007 and 2008, and the New Orleans metro area has reached nearly 90 percent of its pre-storm population, but settlement patterns have shifted significantly from the pre-storm blueprint, and the number of vacant and blighted residences in other parishes has increased since last fall.

All of these conditions -- rapid population growth, large numbers of displaced folks, and distressed neighborhoods -- present additional significant challenges for the Census Bureau and its community and municipal partners. Mail service in blighted communities might not reach all homes in various stages of renovation, even if homeowners have started to move back in, and census takers may find it difficult to navigate unsafe and unmarked streets to reach unresponsive households and to determine correctly the occupancy status of many structures.

An accurate census is essential to all communities, but its importance is magnified in Gulf Coast communities devastated by Katrina and subsequent storms. An analysis by the Brookings Institution showed that, in Fiscal Year 2007, Louisiana received $11.6 billion; Mississippi, $5.6 billion; and Alabama, $5.9 billion in federal funds for a wide range of critical programs and services, based in whole or in part on census data. On average, states receive roughly $1,200 annually, or $12,000 over a decade, for each person counted in the census; figures for some states in distress, such as Louisiana, are as high as $2,695 per capita annually. Our communities desperately need federal support to rebuild and strengthen our transportation, education, housing, health care, and public safety infrastructure. An accurate census also offers a necessary portrait of the pace of recovery and the challenges that remain to reach our goal of long term stability and prosperity, and will help ensure that our communities are represented fairly in national and state legislatures.

Our organizations have had little contact with Census Bureau officials, and we are concerned about plans for promoting awareness and participation in communities where people remain unsettled, as well as among migrant workers and people with limited English proficiency.