Posted by: Christian Association | March 7, 2010

Guest Post: Why the Census Is a Social Justice Issue

CA Board member Warren Cederholm has written this post.

Why is the 2010 US Census a Social Justice Issue?

Since it is coming close to the time when the 2010 census will be taken, it might be wise to take a look at why the census is a social justice issue. (These are not my words, they are taken from Train the Trainers Manual. But they are words that need to be shared and understood.)

An accurate census directly affects our nation’s ability to ensure equal representation and equal access to important governmental resources for all Americans, and thus must be regarded as one of the most significant civil rights issues facing the country today.

Low-income people, people of color, children, immigrants, people with disabilities, and people living in urban areas are most likely to be undercounted. In contrast, college students living away from home, people who own more than one home, non-Hispanic Whites, suburban residents, and higher-income people are more likely to be counted twice, leading to an overcount of these population groups.

Despite more resources and better planning, the 2000 census missed about 16 million people. Low-income communities, particularly low-income communities of color, were disproportionately undercounted in the census. As a result, many individuals were denied an equal voice in their government and many communities were shortchanged on federal and state funding for schools, crime prevention, health care, and transportation.

If that pattern of undercounting and overcounting happens during the 2010 census, people in undercounted communities will be unfairly denied representation and resources for the next 10 years, directly affecting access to health care, education, employment and job training services, veterans’ services, economic development, and more. Undercounted communities are also underrepresented in local, state, and national government, which means they have less influence than they deserve over decisions affecting their lives, families, and neighborhoods. That’s why the census is a civil rights issue.

Why are people of color and low-income people disproportionately undercounted?

There are several reasons for the persistent and disproportionate undercount of people of color and low-income people, including: Lower response rates for mail and door-to-door collection methods in lower-income areas; Lower education levels, higher rates of illiteracy, and limited English proficiency make it harder for some people to understand the census process and questionnaire; A general lack of understanding about how important census participation can be to individuals and their communities; and Distrust or suspicion of government, leading to a fear that census responses may used by immigration or law enforcement officials to detain or deport people, may be given to landlords or creditors, or may affect eligibility for social welfare programs.

What is the relationship of the census to voting rights?

Undercounting some communities leads to underrepresentation at many levels of government. Census data are used to determine how many representatives each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next 10 years. Census data are also used to draw lines for voting districts for Congress, state legislatures, school boards, and city councils. In addition, census information is used to assist enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which outlaws drawing of legislative districts with the intention of diluting the concentration of minority voters. Failing to accurately account for local concentrations of minority groups in a census count hampers fair redistricting efforts since voting power would not be properly allocated on the basis of population.

Census data directly affect how more than $400 billion per year in federal funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation and much more. That’s more than $4 trillion over a 10-year period.



  1. Some people have said that the US immigration office is going to trace census respondents, find out if they are in this country legally, then locate and deport them if they are not. It’s part of a crackdown on undocumented workers — SO wrong!

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