Just as the US Constitution required, and Congress paid for, the Bureau of the Census headed out into the country to do the hard and seemingly impossible work of counting everyone living in the country during 2010. That elusive number is a constantly moving target: People move in. They move out. They die, and start lives as newborn citizens in the great American enterprise.
The work of the Census Bureau keeps scholars, reporters, and economists in work for years. Before too long, it’s time to start another count. Raul Cisneros of the Bureau said on this week’s Destination Casa Blanca that work was already under way for 2020, even as the brand spanking new numbers make their way out to the public.
During this week’s program we talked about the remarkable number of self-identified Latinos, some 45 million, and speculated about what it means right at this moment, and what it’s going to mean for America going forward.
A representative of the Bureau, Raul Cisneros, said the response to the mailed survey was good, and the new ways the Census asked about race and ethnicity was still being tabulated. Work on the 2020 Census, Cisneros said, has already begun. The bureau is a creature of the executive branch, with oversight from the Congress, which holds its purse strings. At the last minute, Congressional Republicans tried to add lines of inquiry regarding citizenship and legal status in the country, but those efforts were defeated by the insistence, in the plain language of the US Constitution that every person is to be counted. Period. And that, Cisneros said, is what the bureau tried to do, and believes it succeeded in doing.
However, the attempts to fiddle with the census exposed some of the fault lines in the national debate over what to do about the millions of people who have come to live in the country without following the laws governing immigration. Should they be counted? One of the most consequential tasks for which the census data is a tool is doling out congressional seats to the states. Does it make sense to count people who aren’t even supposed to be here for the purpose of apportionment? At this tense moment in the life of the nation, with soaring foreclosures and persistently high unemployment, the act of counting everyone within our borders ends up implicating other national debates that involve wealth and poverty, race, class, and nationality.
This year’s census data was used to determine that Texas will have four more members of the House of Representatives in the next congress. Most of that additional population was added to Texas’ total by the tremendous growth in Latino numbers. Illinois is losing a seat, as is New York. In both cases the losses would have been much more substantial if not for the large and growing number of Latinos. California held on to its seats for largely the same reason–budget problems, economic distress, challenges to the Golden State’s quality of life has seen non-Hispanic whites moving to next-door Arizona, Oregon on the northern border and nearby Washington.
Here’s where it gets tricky: In the recent mid-term elections, Texans sent a huge delegation of Republicans to Washington, and gave the GOP bullet-proof majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.
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