Let's Represent In Census 2000
Lorraine A. Green
Essence, March 2000 Issue

What's the cost of ignoring the U.S. Census form? Well, when the 1990 Census undercounted the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C., by almost 8,000, students had to make do for an entire decade with 17 fewer schools and 594 fewer teachers than they needed. Similar miscounts and results plagued the most economically-challenged neighborhoods throughout the country during the unprecedentedly prosperous 1990s. We can't let this happen in the first census of this new century.

As in an important election, turnout for the U.S. Census 2000 - - especially among Blacks and other people of color is critical. The census numbers are used, first, by the states to draw congressional districts and to apportion the number of elected legislators who represent us at all levels of government. Cities and counties will also use these figures over the next ten years to decide where to put schools, hospitals and roads. Without an accurate count, our communities will have far less clout in terms of representation by elected officials, and we could be deprived of public services - - in housing, health, education and transportation, and for senior citizens and veterans.

The United States has conducted a census of the nation's population every ten years since 1790 as mandated by our Constitution. African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and American Indian groups have traditionally been overlooked. This undercount, of course, is the unfortunate legacy of the nation's earliest days, when White males were the only legally enfranchised citizens, and each Black man and woman was seen by law as three-fifths a person in official population counts. But even now that we have are hard-won legal equality, many citizens of color express residual mistrust of the U.S. government by not participating in the census: By the Census Bureau's own analysis of its last tally in 1990, nearly 1.4 million African-Americans - - 4.4 percent of the country's Black population - - were not in the count.

But it is not the government that suffers. It's our children, our elderly, our poor. Some 2.2 million children, a disproportionate number of them children of color, weren't tallied in 1990, about half of the entire net undercount. Of course, people who have no home or conventional housing are easiest to miss in the census, but people who rent homes or apartments, especially if they are moving from one place to another, are also subject to being undercounted.

Every year some $180 billion in government funds is distributed based on formulas rooted in census figures; that comes to more than a trillion dollars over a decade. This miscounting is tragic, and we need to find a way to get rid of it, said Eddie N. Williams, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank that follows issues impacting communities of color. If Blacks, Latinos and other people of color are undercounted, that only ensures that our communities will get even less. So how do make sure we get the federal dollars we deserve?

Starting in mid-March, the Census Bureau will mail out forms for every household to complete and return. Most will get a short form with seven easy questions that take about ten minutes to complete. But one in six households will receive the more detailed questionnaire that takes about 40 minutes. It's worth the extra time and effort as it further documents the needs of our communities.

This spring and summer, an army of more than 800,000 census employees will go door-to-door to follow-up with those who failed to mail in forms. To avoid a visit, just fill out the form. By law, the information you provide is strictly confidential and sources are never identified by name. Names and other data cannot even be shared with another government agency.

If you have questions, contact the Census Monitoring Board through our web site at or speak to someone in the fleet of 12 Census 2000 Mobile Road Tour Vans that are now traveling around the country through mid-April. And spread the word by getting your church to join other communities of faith nationwide to observe Census Sundays in late March. If we all do our part, we'll have no undercount and no loss of federal benefits for our communities, especially for our most vulnerable fellow citizens.

Lorraine A. Green is a Presidential Appointee of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board and the Corporate Vice President for Human Resources at Amtrak. For additional information visit For a photo of Lorraine Green call (202) 722-6035.


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U.S. Census Monitoring Board
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