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Friday, February 22 , 2019, 3:13 am | Fair 46º


Harris Sherline: Making Sense of the Census

Exactly who is counted in the 2010 census will affect whether Congress actually represents Americans

Every 10 years we go through the process of counting the people in America. Based on the results, the multitude of congressional districts around the country are adjusted for the purpose of complying with the constitutional mandate that seats in the House of Representatives be allocated on the basis of the population in the 50 states.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

Not surprisingly, including illegal aliens in the census count could make a significant difference in the number of members allocated to key states.

Furthermore, beyond the specific requirement to adjust the congressional districts based on population, taking the census has evolved into a detailed and intrusive series of personal questions that the government wants answered for its own purposes. And, those who refuse to answer them can be subject to heavy penalties.

Following are various census facts you may find of interest:

» All residents of the 50 states and the District of Columbia must be counted.

» Legally married gay couples will be counted as marriages.

» The first census was taken in 1790.

» Census figures are based on counts of people who live in residential structures, where they live and sleep most of the year.

» The count includes citizens, noncitizen legal residents, noncitizen long-term visitors and illegal immigrants.

» Census counts are also used as the basis of apportionment of Electoral College seats for presidential elections.

» Census records and information about specific individuals who are included in the census become available to the public 72 years after the census is taken; however, aggregate statistical data is released as soon as it is available.

» Statistical information derived from the census is used as the basis for a wide range of planning by government and industry.

» The census results are also used as the basis for distributing $300 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.

» The first nine censuses (1790-1870) were not managed by the Executive Branch of the federal government, but were conducted by federal marshals who were assigned by the federal courts.

» The results of the 2010 census must be submitted to the president by Dec. 31, 2010.

» The census has generally been the responsibility of the Commerce Department and the managers have reported to the commerce secretary, who in turn reports to the president. Shortly after taking office, the Obama administration changed the reporting relationship to have the Census Bureau director report directly to President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

Here are some highlights of the population figures that will be updated as a result of the 2010 census:

» The 2008 estimate of U.S. population is a little over 304 million.

» About 80 percent of the U.S. population is white, 15.1 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 12.8 percent black.

» In 2007, 11.1 percent of the population was foreign born.

» In 2000, 17.9 percent of the U.S. population spoke a language other than English at home.

» In 2007, there were almost 128 million housing units in the United States.

» In 2000, 80 percent of people age 25 and older were high school graduates and 24 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

» Almost 50 million people age 5 and older had a disability.

» In 2007, median household income (half above and have below) was $50,740 and per capital income was $21,587 in 1999.

The results of the census count can have a major impact on the nation’s politics. For example, the Wall Street Journal noted that counting illegal immigrants could increase California’s allocation of House seats by nine to which it is not constitutionally entitled.

California’s population of 37 million includes approximately 5.6 million noncitizens (15 percent), which would allot a total of 57 House seats to the state, or 13 percent of the 435 members. However, if noncitizens were not counted, California would have only 48 seats, and Texas, which would have 38 seats if noncitizens are included, would have 34 members if they are not counted.

In an increasingly politicized environment, with billions of dollars and the balance of power at stake, the responsibility for taking the census and how it is managed are likely to become a significant political consideration that could become a contentious issue next year.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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