If you’ve read more than a few articles on Asian-Nation, you already know that I rely a lot on Census data and statistics for this website and blog. In addition, as an academic, I also use Census data heavily for my own research studies, as do thousands of other sociologists, demographers, statisticians, analysts, and others in all kinds of disciplines and fields.
It’s with this in mind that many of us are eagerly anticipating the 2010 Census. After the questionnaires and data collection start this spring, the actual data won’t be completely tabulated and released to the public until 2013 or so. Nonetheless, as a recent Time magazine article describes, diverse racial and ethnic groups around the country understand how important it is that the federal government has an accurate count of their population numbers and the overall importance of these Census data to American society in general:
The U.S. Census is gearing up for its once-a-decade tally of America’s population. And so are thousands of groups with a vested interest in being fully counted — since the Census determines not just seats in the House of Representatives but also how some $400 billion in annual federal funding gets divvied up, the way companies think about where to build factories and stores, and the shape of political and social discourse about issues like race, ethnicity and urban vs. rural America. . . .
Brazilians in Boston are creating public-service announcements to run on Portuguese-language radio stations. The state of California is handing out maps of neighborhoods with low participation rates in the last Census so community groups can target where to knock on doors. . . . “The Census,” says Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, “is all about financial resources and power.” . . .
To think about what’s at stake — beyond $3 billion in unemployment funds, $4 billion worth of rural-electrification loans, $6 billion in Head Start money and hundreds of billions of other federal dollars — consider the Burmese. Some 17,000 people living in the U.S. identified themselves as Burmese in the 2000 Census, but “we know that’s not the right number,” says Aung Naing, chairman of the Burmese Complete Count Committee. . .
In Southern California alone, there are seven or eight Burmese Buddhist temples, he says. So since the fall, Naing has been traveling the country, explaining to Burmese groups that the Census counts everybody — citizen or not — and that the data collected aren’t shared with other parts of the government, like immigration or taxing authorities (common fears that drive down response rates among many minority groups, including blacks and Hispanics).
The Time article acknowledges that there have been instances in the past where Census data has been used against particular racial/ethnic groups, such as during World War II when they were used to identify neighborhoods that had large Japanese American populations, so that they could more easily be rounded up and placed in prison camps.
There are also many Americans who don’t trust the federal government in general and will refuse to complete a Census form based solely on those grounds. As I’ve also written about, the Census Bureau has also experienced more than a few bureaucratic glitches that it will hopefully resolve under the guidance of its new boss, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke.
For people and community organizations interested in learning more about the Census’s importance to Americans of all backgrounds, or in helping to promote participation in their own community, there are some excellent resources at CivilRights.org and NonProfitsCount.org. The Census Bureau also has numerous informational material translated in dozens of languages for downloading. As with the Time magazine article, these resources emphasize that an accurate count of the U.S.’s population forms the basis for many important but often overlooked political, economic, and social decisions that are made that end up affecting our daily lives.
As it relates to Asian Americans, the Asian American Justice Center has a nice summary of the Census’s importance to APAs. Also, the Census Bureau has produced some short videos introducing and promoting the 2010 Census, with the embedded clip below aimed specifically at Asian Americans (the clips are a little elementary but are a good way to start the discussion):
Also, my good friend and colleague Larry Shinagawa is Director of the Asian Pacific American Census Information Center (APACIC), based out of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland. As noted on their website:
[The APACIC] was established to serve the census data needs of the national, regional, and local Washington metropolitan area Asian Pacific American communities. In September 2006, APACIC was designated as a Census Information Center (CIC) by the U.S. Census Bureau. As a member of the U.S. CIC Program, APACIC serves underserved and disadvantaged Asian Pacific American communities especially in the mid-Atlantic region by providing access to U.S. Census Bureau products.
The APACIC page linked to above also contains numerous resources and reports on various Asian American ethnic groups and other aspects of the Asian American population for those who are interested. I hope all Americans, and particularly Asian Americans, will complete and return the Census questionnaire that they’ll receive soon so that we have as accurate as possible a picture of our society and population.