With chronic under-funding, ill-prepared distribution centers, incorrect forms and general confusion, it seems like the 2010 Census has been an epic fail. This failure is surprising, considering the federal government only had 10 years to plan for it.
Every 10 years in America the government has the increasingly difficult task of counting every person in America. The fact that the federal government doesn’t know how many people live in America doesn’t fill me with confidence, but I understand the necessity of the census. Seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allotted based on populations of states, and states receive federal funding for social services based on their populations. Considering how important the census is, and the fact that state and federal government had 10 years to prepare for it, there have been several inexcusable mistakes made with the census.
The first problem is extreme underfunding. For example, California spent $24.7 million during the 2000 census campaign. This year they have spent only $2 million due to state budget cutbacks, a problem which plagues many state governments during this economic downturn. States did not prioritize spending on the census, and this will come back to hurt them in the form of less federal funds.
More than $400 billion is distributed to the states by the federal government every year. These funds are appropriated based on population. Using the example of California, America’s most populous state with more than 37 million residents, almost $3,000 worth of federal funds could be lost for every citizen not counted. Essentially, everyday citizens are going to be penalized (via less funding for social programs and infrastructure) for the poor planning of their state governments.
The Census as a whole is hemorrhaging money; government watchdog groups warn that the entire Census is estimated to cost the Federal government $14.5 billion — around $47 per person. That is a very expensive piece of paper. Considering the 2000 Census cost $4.5 billion — around $16 per person, it seems the Census Bureau is doing something wrong.
The biggest obstacle for the Census will occur after April 19, when the Census Bureau must begin dispatching Census employees to households which failed to turn in their forms. Currently, an estimated one-third of Americans have failed to do so. As of 2008, the Bureau was planning on using hand-held computer devices to record information from households which did not submit their censuses. However, the bureau decided against the use of computers due to technical challenges, mainly training census employees to use them. In my opinion, if you can’t use a computer you shouldn’t be hired as a census employee, but apparently the federal government doesn’t agree, thus the dependence on the archaic paper-and-pen based system. This system is inefficient and requires much more man hours of training and collection than a computer-based system.
The Census should have explored the possibility of submitting census forms online, which would have been easy for many Americans who use computers daily, and then use the paper-and-pen method as a backup to people who do not use a computer or don’t own one. However, the Census’s general abandonment of technology was a big mistake.
Not only is the infrastructure and bureaucracy of the Census massive and cumbersome, the census itself still has typos and mistranslations. The most obvious mistake, which many people noticed when taking the census was the use of the term “Negro” as an option for race. I can confidently say I have never heard an African-American person use that word to describe themselves, but apparently the Census bureau finds it’s appropriate. Many problems have also been reported in the foreign language versions of the census which was in some cases ineligible to the reader. It seems like a simple spell-check would have been a priority when producing a $4.5 billion document.
The census also failed to count lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) Americans. In a last minute change of policy the Census told gay couples who consider themselves married to claim “Married” in the relationship status portion of the census, despite not having legal marriage certificates, and the inability of the Federal Government to recognize gay marriages. It was a nice gesture to the LGBT community, but too little, too late.
These failures, among many have plagued the 2010 Census. America is scheduled to have its next Census in 2020, and considering the bang-up job the Census Bureau did on the 2010 Census they should start planning for it the day after the 2010 Census is submitted.