Latinos are an increasingly important part of the larger American family. But growing Latino communities have not always received the respect, the resources, or the representation they deserve. The 2010 census is a good way to help change that.
Once every ten years, the census counts everyone living in the United States. Next year, the count will take place in March and April. It’s such a big job, and so important, that communities all across the country are getting ready now to make sure it’s done right. That’s why national and local Latino organizations are working with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to make sure every Latino is counted.
Census numbers can translate into a lot of power for Latino communities – but only if every person is counted. Here are some ways the census is important to Latinos:
Children: Billions of dollars in education funding, and support for school breakfast and lunch programs, are distributed every year based on census figures. The same is true for children’s health insurance. If your community is undercounted, your schools and the children they serve will lose funding they need.
Jobs, infrastructure, and services: Census numbers also influence decisions of national and local importance, such as health care, economic development, job training, and road construction. They also help drive and private investments in businesses and shopping centers.
Political power and equal rights: Census numbers are used to shape federal, state, and local voting districts, which can determine whether or not Latino communities are fairly represented in Congress, state legislatures, and local councils and boards. That’s why we consider the census one of the most important civil rights issues – it affects our ability to ensure equal representation and to enforce civil rights laws.
With so much at stake – jobs, the health and education of children, access to political representation, civil rights protections – why wouldn’t everyone want to be counted?
Some may think that participating in the census will be difficult or take a long time. But it’s really pretty simple. The census form that will arrive in the mail next March asks a few basic questions about each person living in a household, including their age, their gender, and their race and ethnicity. The census form does not ask about citizenship or residency status. Forms will be available in English and Spanish, and people with questions will be able to get free help by phone or from local community groups.
Some people may not trust the government to protect their personal information. But the Census Bureau has a long record of protecting personal information backed by strong privacy laws. By law, individual census information is confidential for 72 years. Maybe in 2082, your grown great grandchildren will seek out your census information to write a family history, but until then no government agency can get access to it – not law enforcement, the courts, or even the President. Everyone working for the census – including its director – swears an oath to protect personal information. And anyone who violates that pledge could be sentenced to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
Some people, who are upset by the lack of progress on immigration reform are calling for a boycott of the census. They think that a boycott will help to build pressure to pass reform. But they’re wrong. Boycotting the census would take power away from Latino communities and deprive families of educational and health resources for the next 10 years. We’re much more likely to pass immigration reform by demonstrating to Congress the growing size and strength of Latino communities.
Latinos are already more likely to go uncounted. The 2000 census missed an estimated 16 million people. People of color and people from low-income communities were more likely to go uncounted, and every person who goes uncounted hurts. In fact, every single person who does not get counted could cost their community more than $12,000. That adds up fast.
So help spread the word that the census is coming, and it’s important to Latino families and communities. It’s time to make sure all families count.