Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Everybody has an interest in census figures

Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a lot riding on those Census Bureau forms we’re all going to be asked to fill out some time next week.

There are some ethnic groups that are hoping to strengthen their overall influence in this country by getting as high a count as possible, while there are government entities that want to show they have as many people as possible so they can claim a larger share of funding provided by the federal government to local programs.

THERE EVEN ARE some ethnicities that are trying to bolster their influence by refusing to participate in the Census, in part on the grounds that they’re punishing the government entities that they think ignore them by holding down the overall count.

Hit them in the pocketbook, so to speak. A lesser population count threatens the amount of money that local governments receive. And the honest truth is that much of what local governments do is reliant upon the federal government to provide some money to help pay for it.

Personally, I’m skeptical such a strategy will work. And I’m not referring just to the overpublicized threat of a Latino Census boycott being pushed by a few ministers and other activists. I recently read an account by which Arabs in this country who are tired of being ignored were urged to ignore that Census form when it shows up in the mail – on the grounds that it really doesn’t matter.

I think that ignoring that Census form merely gives people in power more excuses to justify ignoring you. After all, if you weren’t counted, technically, you don’t exist.

ONE GROUP TRYING to persuade people to account for their newborn children on the Census form literally said that if your kid gets missed this time, it will be another decade before they can be acknowledged.

Not that government officials really care much about any of this. They just want the cash, which a study released Tuesday by the Washington-based Brookings Institute pointed out was rather substantial – particularly when it comes to the large metropolitan areas such as Chicago and its surrounding suburbs.

That study says that in 2008, governments in Illinois received $19.11 billion in federal funds for programs where the population count was a determining factor. Only California, New York and Texas got more.

Considering that the Chicago metropolitan area has become so dominant in Illinois’ population, it reasons that a large share ($12.68 billion) came to what is officially classified as the Chicago/Naperville/Joliet area. Only New York and Los Angeles got more.

OF COURSE, ALL of our counties all got significant amounts. Cook County received $10.11 billion (third highest in the nation for a county), while DuPage County also ranked in the Top 100 ($700.59 million, ranked 97th), while all the other Illinois and Indiana counties that comprise metro Chicago are in the Top 200.

At a time when our state and local governments are facing financial struggles of their own, I know for a fact that they’re all counting on getting every single dollar possible from the federal government in order to help balance out their budgets.

I have been hearing too many public school officials in recent weeks talking about their financial problems. The last thing they want to have to do is educate kids in their school districts whose family heads couldn’t be bothered to fill out a Census form.

They still have to, even if the amount of money they receive from federal education programs doesn’t truly reflect their population.

YOU MAY HAVE figured out by now after reading this commentary that I am something of a geek when it comes to the Census figures. When combined with reapportionment, I think they are the two most interesting stories that take place every decade.

Considering that both of these issues are going to occur in the next two years, I think we’re approaching an interesting time period – more interesting than this year’s elections which are going to be the usual partisan blather, along with a lot of cheap talk from Republicans about how they’re going to “save” the nation from ourselves.

Yawn. If you want to know the truth, what interest I do have in the elections is because I know that the winners will influence the partisan ties of the government officials who wind up using the Census figures compiled this year to put together those political maps that will be used throughout the 2010s.

I find these two issues interesting because they truly are about people.

THE CENSUS TELLS us how many we are and where we live. Then, the process of redistricting shows how those two factors can be twisted for political purposes. And when I say twisted, I fully acknowledge that both major political parties do the twisting.

Heck, even the Green Party would engage in political maneuvering, if they were in any position to do so.

But it all comes back to the Census, which I view similar to how I view voting. If you don’t vote, you lose your right to complain. If you don’t fill out that form and be counted, you might as well be saying you don’t exist. So you shouldn’t complain when the political powers-that-be decide to ignore you.

Personally, I want to exist so that when they try to ignore me, I will have every moral right to complain.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Somebody spent an absurdly large amount of time going through census tracts to ( try to compile this study.

Municipal officials around the nation (,0,4724414.story) are going to be reviewing this study to try to determine how much more money they can get if they can provide a full and accurate population count.

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