It’s more than a year away, but some groups are already gearing up for the 2010 census, a population count that determines how many U.S. House seats each state will have, as well as how much federal money each state will get.
In the past, there have been complaints that not everyone was counted, particularly in minority communities. Lester Collins, director of the State Council on Black Minnesotans, said he fears black and African immigrant populations will be undercounted.
“The African population will definitely be unless we increase the participation, trust levels and involvement of African individuals in this process,” Collins said.
The census created groups to help increase trust and participation. The groups are called Complete Count Committees, and they exist on the city and county level, as well as among racial and ethnic groups.
The idea is that the people involved in these committees can reach deeper into their communities than the census can on its own, generating trust that can lead to greater participation, especially among immigrant groups.
Jonathan Rose, president of the Sierra Leone Committee in Minnesota, said experiences that bring some immigrants to the U.S. in the first place could be obstacles to participation.
“For the Sierra Leone community, a large percentage are refugees. And they’re refugees because they fled from war. And they fled because they were persecuted for, amongst other things, trying to vote a government out of power. So there’s that instinctive distrust of government,” Rose said.
Officials say immigration status doesn’t matter to the census. The information collected is confidential and won’t be used against anyone who may be in the country illegally.
Bao Vang, executive director of the social service organization Hmong American Partnership, says the faltering economy also plays a role.
“With the housing crisis that we’re in right now, a lot of people are homeless. There’s also a lot of people that are living together, two, three families in the same apartment building,” said Vang. “And there’s a fear that if they let people know there’s that many people living there, that they may be evicted. So we’re trying to alleviate these fears.”
Vang said a lot of manpower is needed to make sure the count is accurate. About 8,000 people statewide will be hired to carry out the 2010 count.
Accuracy matters. State demographer Tom Gillaspy warned earlier this month that Minnesota is on the verge of losing a congressional seat because of faster-growing populations in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the country. He says a census undercount in 2010 in Minnesota could spell the difference between retaining eight U.S. representatives or dropping down to seven.