- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
$400 billion in federal funding for health, education, housing, and employment, among other things.
The distribution of Congressional seats among the 50 states for the next decade, and the distribution of legislative districts within the states.
These are the most glaring examples of the political and economic power at stake in the 2010 Census, now only a few weeks away from ramping up. The former is particularly critical as we battle our way out of the deepest recession of the last 60 years and attempt to make sure that people are prepared to take advantage of the eventual recovery. The latter is important because the Senate is already gives outsized influence to undersized states, so dense urban populations have to make sure they’re getting every Congressman they deserve.
The problem is, young, mobile populations are notoriously difficult to count. According to a recent article, the group most likely to be under-counted is young African-American men between the ages of 18 and 24. This is partly a result of their being more transient – moving multiple times during the year and not being counted as part of the parents’ households where they may primarily reside. This is partially a result of a general distrust of government, and the reluctance to fill out forms they fear may result in breaches of privacy and leave them open to police or social welfare harassment. As a result, the Census makes a special effort to reach out to so-called “hard to count” populations, partnering with community groups in order to minimize the distortion.
However, what it’s also an issue of is incarceration. Reportedly, one in nine African American men between 18 and 30 is in the correctional system, and currently, these young men are counted as residing in their place of incarceration, not at their most recent address prior to incarceration. This is highly problematic because it distorts the allocation of resources. With private, rural prisons having become a growth industry over the last two decades, this means that these young men essentially play the same role as African Americans at the outset of the Republic – increasing numbers so that these rural districts get more representation and resources without receiving almost any of the benefits of citizenship otherwise.
The Institute for Southern Studies suggests that, since there isn’t sufficient time for states to record the addresses of all prisoners and credit them back to their communities, they can minimize this distortion by removing prisoners from the numbers used for re-districting and formula funding.
Counting prisoners in the rural districts where they are incarcerated distorts political priorities because it allocates representation away from more progressive urban districts to more conservative rural districts. As a result, the issues and concerns that underlie increased crime and other issues in these communities are less likely to be addressed. Because this distortion tangibly benefits certain districts, it may be more difficult to address than the more routine issue of making sure that people come out of the woodwork to be counted. However, it’s equally as important, and lawmakers on the state level need to address it.