THE BLOG

2010 U.S. Census? Count me in to Bring Home the Money, Honey

09/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I love numbers. A lot.

I am a geek, a closet demographer, and a sucker for statistical analysis. I've accepted this and those who dare engage me in conversation know enough to nod politely when I go all Cliff Clavin on them - they understand I must eventually come up for air.

So when I got the press release from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) about kicking off their campaign to educate the Latino community about the upcoming 2010 Census - and how critical it is for everyone to be fully counted - I was ... giddy.

2009-08-06-USCensus.jpg

The Census really doesn't get its due; I've actually heard people wonder aloud why the government even does it!

Every ten years the U.S. does a Constitutionally mandated head count which is used not only to allocate Congressional seats and electoral votes, but also provides me and other journalists with endlessly fascinating information about who lives where, what they do, and how that's different from a decade ago.

Oh, and it means cold, hard cash.

As New York Times reporter Peter Baker said in his February "Washington Memo: Big Drama over who controls the U.S. Census", new Census counts will "shift billions upon billions of federal dollars over the next decade from some parts of the country to others because of population-driven financing formulas."

The trick is to make the Census count as absolutely accurate as possible so that every community gets an exactly proportional piece of that federal-dollars-pie based on how many people actually live in it.

"Educational services, social services, and transportation services - just to name a few - are all based on these Census numbers," Elisa Alfonso, MALDEF's Regional Census Director told me this morning. "What people don't know is that for every completed census form returned, their community gains about $1,000 in funding for services that will directly impact their quality of life."

Now, I don't want to underplay the significance of MALDEF's task - reaching into Hispanic communities across the Midwest, selling people challenged by Census ignorance, fear of feds, and limited English proficiency is gargantuan.

But though getting such a diverse group of people educated and fully engaged in this decennial ritual will be a toughie, the real story - to me - is just how much easier it will be this time around than in years past.

"Yes, in many ways this is a hard-to-reach community," Alfonso said, "there is general fear from the harsh illegal-immigration enforcement of the undocumented and there are language barriers but there is one difference: in past years there wasn't a unity in communities.

The immigration marches changed that dynamic so much - people got together, they organized, they helped each other to mobilize and created momentum. Now we can capitalize on that energy. We marched, then we voted, now our task is to be counted."

It never occurred to me that an unintended consequence of the national war on illegal immigration would be that a historically fractured community would come together as a cohesive group that could enact change for itself.

"We have so many different organizations that are coming together to expand our reach," Alfonso said. "Sure there isn't a perfect unity, but there is a feeling of banding together and they are operating with a higher level of organization and much more savvy than ever before."

That said, because it will be a challenge, MALDEF is starting to get the word out now, but ahhhhhhhhhh the fruits of their labor will be so, so sweet.

More people responding to the Census means adequately-funded school lunch programs, hospitals, and expressways. It means more data for marketers to use to sell you cool stuff you don't really need but will make you happy, and for me?

It means more numbers, numbers, numbers, numbers.

Esther J. Cepeda writes about lies, damn lies, and statistics (and much, much more) on http://www.600words.com