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Counting on the Census

I wasn’t really paying attention to this sort of thing ten years ago, so I don’t know how much effort was made at the time to get an accurate count of Texas’ residents for the 2000 Census. I can say that there seems to be a lot of focus this time around, and that’s a very good thing, because there’s a lot riding on getting it right.

Census undercounts have historically plagued Texas, and with billions of federal dollars at stake for health care, schools and immunizations, officials say the state could lose millions if the count is not accurate in 2010.

With the census just a year away, communities have organized “Complete Count Committees” to urge residents to participate.

An audit of the past census, conducted almost a decade ago, found that 373,567 Texans were not counted, or 1.76 percent of the state’s population, for an estimated loss of $2,913 per person — or $1 billion — in federal funds from 2002 to 2012.

That census was recalculated, and it was determined that there was a half a percent nationwide overcount, which shows the difficulties in getting an exact figure.

If the undercount had been allowed to stand, losses for Medicaid, child care, block grants, vocational services and other services would have been dire. And the nation’s eight largest counties, including Harris and Dallas in Texas, would have lost more than $100 million each in federal funds, according to the audit for the U.S. Census Monitoring Board.

A lot of the undercount in Texas was along the border, but it happened in the big cities as well. Here in Houston, I know that Council Members Melissa Noriega and James Rodriguez are working with the Census folks to get as accurate a count here as possible. The local effort is called Houston Counts, and they could use your help if you’re so inclined. Click over and fill out the Volunteer/Committee sign-up form (PDF) to pitch in. They’re not exactly overflowing with volunteers right now, so every little bit matters. The Houston metropolitan area should be in line for one of the extra Congressional seats that will come Texas’ way in 2011, but it won’t happen if we don’t count everyone.

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  1. Suzy Allison says:

    I applaud your stress on the importance of next year’s census, and recruitment of volunteers to help gain cooperation and compliance. You need to be aware that local problems are the least of our worries. Problems in Washington have the power to damage the ability to get a complete and accurate census locally, statewide, and nationally. Specifically, the census bureau (a part of the Department of Commerce) does not have a director. Dr. Robert M. Groves was easily approved by the Homeland Security Committee of the Senate, but Republicans have put a hold on his nomination. Sen. McConnell, the Republican leader, has stated no reason for this holdup. The budget for the census has not been finally approved, and it is unclear that all the needed money will be appropriated. In addition, a substantial amount of the money already appropriated was blown through under the previous administration. After an seriously unfavorable GAO report last year, a number of key census officials took “early retirement,” including the deputy director of the Bureau, Jay Waite, who planned to make the count dependent on handheld computers. Whether the problem was poorly written specs or problems in meeting those specs, I do not know, but it was a very costly fiasco and the handhelds did not work.

    Obviously, joining a local complete count committee should be encouraged, but it is probably more to the point to get our friends in Washington to make the census a priority immediately. Census day is less than a year away, and we need action now to prepare.

  2. Thanks, Charles, for the shout-out for the census. I appreciate the information about concerns about DC in the comments, as well–I was aware of some of it, but not all.

    The Census is a time when a community and a state needs to pull together for the common good–nearly everything we recieve from our taxes is determined by our count, and we all are affected.