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US Census: The Cost of Not Being Counted

Census 2000 a Case in Point


US Census: The Cost of Not Being Counted

US Population Hits 300 Million

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Updated February 01, 2010
Every year, the U.S. federal government distributes over $400 billion to communities based on the population counts from the decennial census. That $400 billion is more than the annual gross domestic product of Switzerland, Papua New Guinea and The United Arab Emirates combined. The bad news is that many states and cities fail to get their fair share of that $400 billion simply because the Census Bureau was unable to fully count their population.

Cost of the Census Undercount
About 3.4 million people went uncounted in the 2000 U.S. census. Due to this census "undercount," the District of Columbia and 31 states will lose a total of $4.1 billion in federal funding between the years 2002-2012, according to a 2001 PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by the U.S. Census Monitoring Board. In other words, each person who went uncounted in the 2000 census will cost their city, county or state about $2,913 in potential federal money. That is money that could have been used to build badly-needed public facilities and repaired bridges, tunnels and other-public works projects, while creating thousands of new jobs in the process.

According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, most of federal funding lost due to the 2000 census undercount would have come from Medicaid, Foster Care, Rehabilitation Services Basic Support, Child Care and Development Block Grant, Social Services Block Grant, Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, Adoption Assistance, and Vocational Education Basic Grants.

States Housing Illegal Immigrants Hurt the Worst
States with large numbers of illegal or undocumented immigrants, like California and Texas, will suffer the greatest financial loss due to the 2000 census undercount.
California: An estimated 522, 796 people living in California went uncounted during the 2000 census. As a result PricewaterhouseCoopers projects that California will lose out on $1.5 billion in federal funding, or about $2, 869 per uncounted person. In 1994, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services estimated that about 2.0 million illegal immigrants lived in California.

Texas: An estimated 373, 567 people living in Texas went uncounted during the 2000 census. As a result PricewaterhouseCoopers projects that Texas will lose out on $1.0 billion in federal funding, or about $2,676 per uncounted person. In 1994, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services estimated that about 700,000 illegal immigrants lived in Texas.
Why Do So Many Illegal Immigrants Go Uncounted?
As currently required by law, the Census Bureau is assigned to find and count all of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. Finding and counting people who really do not want to be found and counted -- in a nation the size of the United States -- is a task the Census Bureau calls "Counting the Uncountable."
A Transient Population: In states like California and Texas, a large percentage of illegal immigrants are farm workers who enter the country illegally from Mexico to follow the crops and the seasons across the state, never establishing a fixed place of residence. In addition, many choose to return to Mexico during the short periods between growing seasons.

Non-Traditional Residency: According to the Census Bureau, very few illegal immigrants manage or choose to live in traditional single-family homes or apartments. Instead, most live in-and-out of hotels or motels, boarding houses, even storage rooms and other spaces illegally used as living quarters.

Fear and Distrust: Clearly, fear of arrest and deportation remains the main factor contributing the Census Bureau's difficulty in counting illegal immigrants. In spite of assurances that their census responses will remain confidential and never shared with law enforcement, illegal immigrants continue to assume that census takers are actually trying to catch them.
Will Everyone Be Counted in the 2010 Census?
On Sept. 23, 2008, Census Bureau director Steve Murdock testified before the U.S. Senate to outline steps the Bureau would take to ensure a more complete count of the total population - including illegal immigrants - in the 2010 census.
  • For people who do not have a permanent address or did not get a census form in the mail, census forms will be available in over 40,000 public places nationwide, such as stores, government offices, libraries, and gas stations.

  • The Census Bureau will open 30,000 Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC) where people can pick up census forms and get help in filling them out. A special effort will be made to staff the centers with multi-lingual employees.

  • Census forms will be available in five languages in addition to English (Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Russian). In addition, census assistance guides in 59 languages will be available at the Questionnaire Assistance Centers.

  • The Census Bureau will greatly increase its number multi-lingual census takers. "A household is far more likely to respond to a census enumerator if that enumerator speaks their language and understands their culture," Murdock told the Senate.

  • Census takers will work in "blitz" teams in areas considered too dangerous for them to work alone.
"Whether the challenges are in remote Alaskan rural areas, densely populated urban areas like New York or Chicago, or the Colonias in South Texas - the Census Bureau will marshal the efforts necessary to include them in the 2010 Census," Director Murdock told the Senate. "To us it does not matter how hard it is to reach someone -- it matters that we reach everyone."
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