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Stand up and be counted

Please participate in the Census. Nothing good happens when you don’t.

When the new, condensed census form arrives in the mail during the second week in March, each recipient’s decision about whether to toss it in the trash or fill it out and mail it back will carry important implications.

“It is very important to the city of Houston that we have a complete and accurate count for the 2010 Census,” Parker said in a message on the city’s Web site in January. “We lose an estimated $1,700 per person per year for everyone not counted.”

Experts say the figure Parker used is open to question, in part because allocation formulas for various federal programs use census data in different ways. But no one disputes that vast sums are at stake.

Karl Eschbach, the state demographer, said big cities like Houston with large populations of immigrants and poor people are particularly vulnerable to undercounts. A recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts estimated Houston was undercounted by 25,000 people, or 1.3 percent, in the 2000 Census.

And although leaders of various groups promoting participation discourage the notion that they are competing with one another, Eschbach noted the supply of federal dollars is a fixed sum.

“Undercount is a relative issue,” he said. “My undercount is good for you: Every dollar not assigned here goes somewhere else.”

I figure everyone who reads this blog is already familiar with the issue and doesn’t really need the nudge. But I figure it’s important to repeat the message as often and in as many places as possible. And as the Trib notes, it’s not just a Houston issue.

A September 2001 study commissioned by the U.S. Census Monitoring Board and conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that more than 373,000 Texans were not counted in 2000, resulting in a net loss of more than $1 billion in federal monies that would have gone to support schools, hospitals, social services, and transportation projects over the last decade. That poor showing has prompted the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund to launch its own Complete Count Committee for this year’s census. The task is something the group and its supporters insist should be undertaken by state leaders. “We are asking the governor to work with the U.S. Census Bureau and to issue a directive to all state agencies to promote the census because we feel that it’s crucial,” MALDEF attorney Luis Figueroa said.

Eight Texas counties, including most of the largest, are included on the Census Bureau’s list of the top 50 hard-to-count counties in the U.S. (Areas considered “hard-to-count” include those where a large majority receives public assistance; where renters are common; households with large numbers of children; areas with high non-English proficiency, and dwellings where multiple families live.) Harris County sits at number 5, with 19.1 percent of its approximately 3.4 million residents living in these areas. It is followed by Dallas County in the number 10 spot, with 16.4 percent of its 2.22 million, and Hidalgo County at number 11, with 57 percent of its 540,000 residents living in these areas. Bexar County is in number 32 on the list, with 10.6 percent of its 1.4 million in hard-to-count areas, and Tarrant County is number 36, with 9.3 percent of its 1.45 million residents affected. Travis County sits at 38 (15.3 percent of its 812,000), El Paso County at 42 (16.7 percent of its 680,000) and Cameron County at 45 (30 percent of its 335,000).

Get counted or get overlooked, those are your choices.

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