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Opinion: The Bronx and the Census – The Perfect Storm for an Undercount?

March 5, 2010

By KEN SMALL

Soon millions of Americans will receive the 2010 census form in the mail. While we generally dread government forms, we should welcome this one. In a very real way, the census form, which can be completed in five to 10 minutes in most cases, is as powerful a tool as the right to vote or the freedom to assemble, dissent, and express unpopular opinions. Just as those things are part of the U.S. Constitution, so is the mandate for a census to be conducted every 10 years.

The Census Bureau estimates that $400 billion in federal funds will be disbursed to communities each year through 2020 as determined by formulas based on the 2010 census count. The higher the population count for the Bronx, the more we will benefit from these funds.

In terms of politics, the census count determines how the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned, as well as how seats in the state Legislature and City Council are allocated. Equally important is the fact that the census count is tied to the number of electors who represent the Electoral College, which every four years selects the President.

Demographers, market researchers, and others who study population patterns believe the Bronx has experienced population growth since the 2000 census. The way to confirm this is for all Bronx residents to be counted in 2010. More people should equal more representatives.

Bronxites face many challenges that could create a “perfect storm” for an undercount. The majority of Bronx residents define themselves as being persons of color. Historically, non-whites are more likely to be undercounted than people who define themselves as white. This is also true of low-income persons: One-third of Bronx residents live in poverty. One in three Bronx residents is a first generation immigrant and the foreign born historically have been undercounted. This is particularly true for those who are undocumented.

According to the 2000 census, in some Bronx communities more than half the people said they did not read or speak English well. With about two in five Bronx residents having a language other than English as their first language, this could result in thousands not being counted.

All of these groups need to be counted. Nobody should be afraid to participate in the census. The data the census collects is confidential and not shared with any government organization, including immigration or law enforcement officials.

Ken Small is the development director of BronxWorks, one of several organizations partnering with the Census Bureau to promote a complete and accurate count. For more information on our efforts, contact Tim Sarraille at tsarraille@bronxworks.org or (718) 508-3153, or Tiara Williams at twilliams@bronxworks.org or (718) 508-3070).

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