The 2010 Census Is HereLike a cheerleader, every page of the U.S. Census 2010 website exhorts the American masses, "It's in our hands." In one sense, "it" is the questionnaire residents nationwide receive from the bureau to be filled out and returned so that the resulting data yields an accurate - and useful - portrait of the United States. "It" can also be seen as the future: Participate in the census, and you and your community, city, or state may benefit politically and financially. A lot of power and money is at stake.
The 2000 Census was the first time in 30 years that Massachusetts did not lose a representative. But this time around, Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state's liaison with the bureau for the 2010 Census, has said, "I don't know if I can pull a rabbit out of the hat again." New York State lost two seats in 2000, going from 31 to 29 representatives. Using Census Bureau estimates released December 2009, Election Data Services, a political consulting company that analyzes census and political data, projects that both Massachusetts and New York State will lose single seats once 2010 tallies are in.
A wide swath of people and organizations across Massachusetts - politicians, community organizers, social workers, public agencies and nonprofit organizations - worry about losing their share of the pie. But state leaders maintain that Massachusetts population numbers are still strong, fueled by immigrants, the state's fastest growing segment, which now comprises 14 percent of the state's inhabitants.
In July 2008, Bureau estimates put Boston's population at 620,000, up from 589,000 in 2000. Based on the bureau's July 2008 estimates, there are more than 8.36 million people living in New York City, a four percent increase over the 2000 Census. In a public service video posted on the city of Boston's website, Mayor Thomas Menino challenges his constituents to be counted in 2010, "to help ensure that Boston receives its fair share of funding, congressional representation and accurate data that will benefit us for the next ten years."
According to UMass Amherst sociologist C.N. Le, the 2000 Census results showed that the U.S. population was becoming increasingly non-white, with Latino and Asian numbers growing the most. "I expect to see a continuation of that trend with the 2010 Census," Le said. The Census Bureau predicts that by 2046, whites will no longer be a majority. They'll still be the largest racial group by far, but non-whites will comprise more than 50 percent of the national population. Massachusetts is following this general pattern."
A Herculean task
Census 2010 faces another major obstacle: Some Latino leaders are urging undocumented immigrants to boycott the census as a way to protest the lack of immigration reform. Other immigrant leaders oppose this tactic because undercounting can drain dollars, political representation, and influence from Latino communities.
"While I understand their frustration," said Giovana Negretti, founding director of Oiste?, a Boston-based Latino civic education and advocacy organization, "the boycott is the wrong strategy. The census is one of the best tools Latinos have to improve their quality of life."
"If Massachusetts's immigrants are undercounted, there might be less funding for social services that directly benefit their communities," Le said. "Further, they won't receive the kind of attention their growing numbers warrant."
Building the trust, raising the numbers
The Bureau has ramped up its push to encourage participation in this year's census. At $340 million (vs. $100- $150 million for the 2000 Census, the first with an ad budget), the bureau's advertising strategy represents the most extensive and diverse outreach campaign in U.S. history. With print and TV ads appearing in 28 languages, much of the campaign targets various ethnic audiences. Since one in five U.S. residents speaks a language other than English at home, the Census Bureau is distributing instruction guides and sample forms in dozens of languages in places such as community centers, barbershops, and supermarkets, and offering online information and over-the-phone help in 59 languages.
Another big difference from a decade ago is that the campaign is running in media outlets that did not exist in 2000, including Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube, plus a blog by census director Robert Groves.
Making it easier for residents to respond, the Bureau will use a streamlined questionnaire - the shortest in history, touting it as "10 questions in 10 minutes." For the first time, the Census will distribute census forms in English and Spanish to about 13.5 million households in neighborhoods with high concentrations of Spanish-speaking residents. The bureau has also dropped its "long form," which since 1930 collected socioeconomic and housing data on every sixth household.
In addition, the Bureau has partnered with more than 150,000 businesses, nonprofits and community groups, such as churches and ethnic organizations, nationwide to build trust in its message that filling out the form is important, safe, and easy. With its Census in the Schools program, the Bureau has also involved K-12 teachers and students.
To help communities prepare for the 2010 Census, the bureau compiled a database that ranks the hardest-to-count areas. According to the Boston-based Metropolitan Area Planning Council, among the 651 tracts that make up one percent of the hardest-to-count tracks, 19 are located in Massachusetts.
Counting the hard-to-count
More determined than ever, Massachusetts and Boston are devoting ample funds and energy to reach immigrants and other hard-to-count groups. In the 2000 Census, 69 percent of Massachusetts residents returned the census form, slightly above the national rate of 67 percent, but lower than large states such as California, Colorado, and Virginia. In cities with large immigrant populations, such as Lawrence and Boston, the response was lower. Federal officials hope to increase Boston's return rate from 57 percent in 2000 to 70 percent in 2010.
Municipalities throughout the state have formed Complete Count Committees - public officials, community leaders, volunteers - to maximize participation in their communities. "The bureau is doing the right thing," Negretti said, "partnering with communities and working at the grass roots level to foster trust. People respond to people they know, from the agencies in their neighborhood to the church down the street. At their doors, they will believe people they know."
New York State, expecting a count of more than 19.5 million, is also going all out.
A by-the-numbers national portrait