COMMENTARY:

Thinking About Countings

by Fred Cederholm

The 2010 U.S. Census zeros in on Hispanics and seeks to learn which Latin American (or South American) country was the source of their origin.

I’ve been thinking about counting(s). Actually I’ve been thinking about the 2010 U.S. Census, the questions asked, redistricting, political party affiliations, the League of Women Voters of Illinois, vacant properties, and cell phones. When I returned home last Friday evening I found a plastic bag on my side doorknob which contained my 2010 Census form and instructions. I wasn’t expecting these quite yet.

A couple of weeks back, I had received (in my snail mail) a letter telling me how I would shortly be receiving my Census materials and why it was so important that I complete and mail them timely. It seems like only yesterday that I had completed the 2000 Census. Back then, I had returned to Creston to my childhood home to be the full time caregiver for my mother after her stroke. In 1990 I lived in Lisle, Illinois, in 1980 I was in Houston, Texas, and in 1970 I was in school at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Time certainly flies...

You see Census 2010, a Snapshot of America, marks the twenty-third “nose count” in the USA since Benjamin Franklin oversaw the first one back in 1790. The total cost of the national counting then was $44,000! While the earlier (and longer) census forms with a multitude of demographic inquiries gave way to a much shorter version dealing now with only ten basic questions - including name, gender, age, date of birth, race, and homeownership status; the current version will cost US/ us somewhere in the area of $48.00 per person - if you mail in your form timely, and $100.00 per person – if you don’t and follow up is required. The 1970 count cost roughly $ 1 BILLION, the 1980 costs were $2.6 BILLION, the 1990 tallying cost us $4.1 BILLION, and the 2000 Census ran us $8.2 BILLION. The 2010 edition will be the most expensive in our history --costs are presently estimated between $14 and $15 BILLION. We have no choice in the matter as a Census every ten years is mandated by our U.S. Constitution.

The questions asked in the current go around are somewhat surprising to me. I find that it is always interesting how the focus of the inquiries is directed by the questions. Name, age, and race/ethnicity have been standard in the forms over the decades. The 2010 version zeros in on Hispanics and seeks to learn which Latin American (or South American) country was the source of their origin. The forms are not directed at any discrimination, or legal status in our country. In the past ten years, Hispanics became THE largest nationwide minority here. The country of origin questions are designed merely to give a depth of understanding into this Hispanic boom and growth. The framers of the Constitution made it clear they wanted “all inhabitants” of the country counted by a U.S. Census. Consideration is not given to legal, OR illegal status of the form filers.

Not participating in the census would hurt any community. The U.S. census inherently benefits all people who are counted, their local communities, and their states of residence. Federal dollars are distributed based on the population count for services like education, transportation, health care and job training. Every non-counted resident could cost a locality several thousands of dollars in Federal monies over the coming years. The numbers give also political representation to those who are counted. Shifts in population reward growing population states with additional Congressmen in Washington at the expense of those states which have lost residents. It is projected that Illinois will lose two Representatives in Congress due to a decline in population. Once the tallies are made and Congressional seats are re-apportioned, it is up to each state to “re-district” to reflect any gains or losses in Representatives. Here is where the partisan maneuvering and really aggressive gerrymandering begin.

Illinois is traditionally one of the LAST states to complete its redistricting after a Census count! Challenges to the boundaries and border revisions always seem to wind up in court here in the Prairie State. The League of Women Voters of Illinois is seeking to remedy this by circulating a referendum petition for inclusion on the coming Fall election ballot. This would remove the districting process from the political arena. It would establish a non-partisan entity to handle re-allocation. No one who has held political office, has personal (or family) ties to elected officials, has active political party affiliations, or has business relationships with state (or state agencies) would be allowed to serve on this entity.

Given the state of the economy, how might record vacant residential properties impact the 2010 Census? Follow up costs for non-responses will be costly. The form also asks for a phone number to use if questions arise. There is no reference made to if the number provided is a land line, or a cell phone. HUMMM...?!?!

I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.


Copyright 2009 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved. Fred Cederholm is a CPA/CFE, a forensic accountant, and writer. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.A., M.A. and M.A.S.). He can be reached at asklet@rochelle.net.

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This story was published on March 9, 2010.