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June/July 2010 – Web Exclusive

Roll Call for the State

Texas added 4 million citizens over the last decade, more than any other state.

Accurate Census Count Means Money, Clout for Texas

by Mark Wangrin

Texas stands to be a big winner in the 2010 Census — but only if Texans will stand up and be counted.

At the turn of each decade, the federal government sends a questionnaire to households to obtain basic information about how many people are living in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Each recipient is required by law to truthfully answer 10 questions. The information from the questionnaire is used for a variety of purposes, many of which equate population with dollars.

“It’s mandated at the national level by the Constitution, but it affects everybody at the local level,” says Kimberly Murphy, spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau’s Dallas office. “It determines everything from how you’re represented in Washington [D.C.], to getting the money to fix that pothole you drive by every day, to how school lunch programs are funded, to how much money senior-citizen groups get.”

More People, More Money

Texas added 4 million citizens, more than any other state, from 2000 to the July 1, 2009 U.S. Census estimate, the last before the official 2010 head count.

That influx is expected to add three to four more seats to the 32 Texas already has in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives, and to get the state a larger share of more than $400 billion in federal funding for hospitals, job training, schools, senior-citizen centers, transportation infrastructure and emergency services.

Texas tied for 34th among states in its share of census forms returned by mail
by the deadline.

And there are other uses for Census data:

  • state and local governments use them to plan for roads, schools, energy and other essential services to accommodate population growth.
  • the federal government uses Census data to distinguish between rural and urban populations for appropriate government programs. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides Medicaid and Medicare payment bonuses to areas that have too few doctors, called Health Professional Shortage Areas.
  • businesses use the data to identify areas that are best able to support them, through measures such as population density and household income.
  • Public and private researchers use the data for many topics, including socioeconomic, environmental, genealogical, historical and health research.

Raise Your Hand

Texans, however, have been reluctant to stand up and be counted. Texas tied for 34th among states in its share of census forms returned by mail by the April 1 deadline. The national average was 72 percent; only 69 percent of Texans complied.

Experts cite many reasons for this lack of cooperation with the census, ranging from anti-government sentiment to fear among illegal aliens. Whatever the reason, though, it costs taxpayers. According to the Census Bureau, every 1 percent of U.S. households that fail to return a completed questionnaire require the federal government to spend $85 million on in-person interviews.

Murphy says 57,000 temporary census takers have been hired in Texas — for between $10 and $25 an hour — to knock on the doors of those who did not return their forms by July 10. She stressed that census workers take an oath of confidentiality and face up to five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000 for using responses for anything outside their legal use.

“They’re not to share [your information] with anybody — not your landlord, the police or the president of the United States,” Murphy says. “They’re sworn for life to keep the information confidential.”

Murphy says that Census workers will not ask for Social Security or bank account numbers and won’t solicit donations. Citizens are encouraged to report violations to local law enforcement officials. FN

Stand Up, Be Counted… Please?

Texas had the second-lowest response rate among the 10 largest states for the 2010 mail-in Census form. Census workers are spreading out across the U.S. to attempt to count those who failed to comply.

2010 Census Participation Rates,
10 Most Populous States

(Percent of Population Responding to Mail-in Survey by April 1)

Percent of Mail-in Responses Received
New York 66% 67%
Texas 68% 69%
Georgia 69% 70%
California 73% 71%
Florida 69% 72%
U.S. average 72% 72%
North Carolina 66% 74%
Illinois 73% 75%
Pennsylvania 76% 76%
Ohio 77% 76%
Michigan 77% 77%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Want to verify the person knocking on your door is indeed a Census worker? Call (800) 563-6499.

Check how your community’s participation rate stacks up with others around the country.

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