By Alice Gomez and Lucia Matthews
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. The upcoming 2010 U.S. Census, what the official Census website refers to as a “portrait of America”, may up the ante. There has been an unprecedented buzz around what this influential survey will reveal about the Hispanic population months before its March commencement.
“Every individual within the snapshot has a story.” That is what the Census.gov homepage goes on to claim. Public focus seems to be centered on what story will be told of the U.S. Hispanic whole. An accurate calculation of the Hispanic population will divulge the magnitude of their presence. Advocates believe the result would be enhanced political voice and benefits from federal programming.
The Census is much more than a head count. Comprised of ten simple demographic questions, the form has monumental impact. The decennial poll decides the fate of more than $300 billion in government funding annually. These monies are allocated towards infrastructure and services such as hospitals, education, emergency services, roads, etc.
Census results also determine political representation at both the state and federal level. State congressional districts are created with the philosophy of ’one-man-one-vote’. Theoretically, borders are drawn based on equal population disbursement. The Census determines the number of representatives a state has in the House of Representatives as well.
Beyond financial and political clout the Census is a close as it comes to a quantifiable depiction of American society. It is an illustration of the U.S. people- its family size, racial and geographic makeup. Debates rage over what role the 2010 Census will cast Hispanics in its narrative.
In the 2000 Census, the Hispanic population was reported at 35.3 million, or 12.5 percent, a nearly 60 percent increase from 1990. These findings branded Latinos as the largest and fastest growing minority group. However, doubts of accuracy surround whether a significant portion of Hispanics remained uncounted. The Census Bureau estimated an over-count of 1.3 million U.S. citizens and an under-count of 250,000 Hispanics.
Whether this potential miscount was the fault of an imperfect system or uncooperative citizens is difficult to pinpoint. Most certainly it was a combination of both. Regardless, the 2010 Census seems promising.
The U.S. Census Bureau is making an attempt to improve their Hispanic market reach. Local politicians and government representatives are working to increase awareness of the Census’ privacy policies. Legally information collected from the survey can not be held against an individual. It can not be used to enforce immigration laws. Active recruitment of Hispanic Census workers also aid the Bureau’s efforts. In addition, more bilingual forms than ever before will be distributed to encourage participation.
If the polls are any indicator of Census cooperation, then Hispanics appear more open to Census participation than years prior. Nationwide, Hispanic voter registration grew 54 percent and voter turnout 64 percent between 2000 and 2008. Many Hispanic advocacy and Spanish-language media channels are campaigning for the Census. There is a lot of support behind the belief the Census will advance U.S. Hispanics.
“The new Census numbers will give Hispanics greater leverage with their legitimate claims for recognition, influence and resources” Eric Shannon, LatPro, Inc President, said. LatPro is an online service that connects organizations with Hispanic and bilingual professionals.
The point here is not to dismiss obstacles still at play. There remains a grave amount of uncertainty and distrust within the Hispanic community surrounding how the government will utilize Census information. Current economic conditions may also hinder Census accuracy. The number of Americans moving around for jobs and the wave of foreclosures is sure to affect Census information.
A perfect Census is an impossible ideal. The goal is to generate the most realistic depiction of the U.S. possible. The more skewed the results, the more abstract the snapshot. An effective 2010 Census would produce an accurate understanding of Hispanic presence. Optimistically, such would lead to a positive influence on Hispanic voice and advocacy within the U.S.