Evan Vucci/AP
Sen. Judd Gregg, R- N.H.

The Politics of 2010 Census Highlighted by Gregg Withdrawal

February 19, 2009 10:29 AM
by Cara McDonough
As the 2010 census draws nearer, political questions about the decennial count have been raised, including concerns over representation of minority groups.

Census Has Become a Power Struggle

Judd Gregg’s withdrawal from consideration as Obama’s commerce secretary last week was reportedly due in part to disagreements with the Obama White House over the 2010 census.

Although it “may sound surprising to those who don't consider the decennial headcount a red-hot political matter,” writes Time magazine, the census is at the center of a power struggle between Democrats and Republicans, and this year is particularly important: The 2010 census is the first in 30 years to occur under a Democratic administration.

The problem began with Gregg’s nomination. Some Democrats and advocates for minority groups worried that he would not support efforts, like sampling, that could result in more accurate counts. The White House sought to calm those fears by issuing a statement saying that the census director would "work closely with White House senior management."

Uproar ensued. The GOP immediately spoke out about the “politicization of the census” and the White House issued a clarification that "this administration has not proposed removing the Census from the Department of Commerce."

Why all the concern? To put in simply, according to Time, when it comes to the census, Republicans prefer to err on the side of undercounting and Democrats prefer to err on the side of overcounting. The results can have a major impact on policy, depending on demographics and localities.

The primary purpose of the census is to provide a population count that is used to create congressional districts and other political boundaries. According to the San Francisco Chronicle Politics blog, “Places with more people stand to win increased political representation and federal funding.”

For now, questions remain. No one knows who will control the census, or how much funding the Census Bureau will receive this year. The Census Project, a consortium of stakeholders concerned about the count, did applaud the inclusion of $1 billion for the 2010 census in Obama’s stimulus package.

Background: The history of politics and the census

The census, as mandated by the Constitution, has taken place every 10 years since 1790 and is an effort to count every person in the country, citizens and non-citizens alike.

But the count comes down to far more than numbers. Kenneth Prewitt, in an essay entitled “Politics and Science in Census Taking," wrote that between 1910 and 1920, there was a huge movement away from rural, Southern states to industrial cities in the North, resulting in a more urbanized America for the first time. Conservative congressmen worried that the “reapportionment would shift power to factory-based unions and politically radical immigrants concentrated in Northeastern cities,” Prewitt wrote.

And in the 1960s, underrepresentation in the census became a huge issue with the advent of the civil rights movement. “Under-representation became presumptive evidence of racial discrimination,” according to Prewitt.

The subject of minority representation has been up for debate for years. A book, “Who Counts?” written by Margo J. Anderson and Stephen E. Fienberg, tells the stories of the lawsuits, hearings and other issues that arose around the 1990 census, when people questioned whether the census should be modified to fix the problem of undercounting poor, urban minorities.

Related Topic: Recent census projections

In August, a Census Bureau report on female fertility indicated that fewer women are having children, and the women that do have children have fewer of them.

The report revealed that the number of American women between the ages of 40 and 44 who have no children is twice as large as it was 30 years ago. The data also showed that in places where women are encouraged to start families at a young age, the trends are different. Utah, for instance, had the highest birthrate of any state and its numbers diverged substantially from the average.

Another census report released in August projected that by 2042, minorities will compose the majority of the United States population. The report found that the birthrate was higher for some demographics. For example, Hispanic women still have an average of 2.3 children by the time they reach their forties. The number is higher than the national average, which has dropped from 3.1 to 1.9 over the past 30 years.

Reference: Census timeline


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