March 27, 2010 | MySanAntonio News | Original Article

Do the census: It really matters

I have one simple reason why you should return your 2010 census form: We can't let Dallas beat us.

Dallas County residents as of Friday had posted a 29 percent mail-participation rate. Bexar County's? We're at 25 percent. Harris County is even further behind with a 23 percent return rate. We have to pick up the pace.

There's more than a city rivalry at stake, of course. The census, which is required by the U.S. Constitution, is a vital tool in shaping our demo-cracy. Having an accurate count of the nation's residents ensures each state has its due representation in Congress.

It's a trickle-down effect from there. With equal representation in Congress, we stand a better shot at receiving our fair share of more than $400 billion in federal money that affects such daily needs as transportation infrastructure, schools and hospitals.

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, makes a stark point about the federal funds. “Had everybody filled out their census forms in the last go-round, we would have received more than $1 billion more in federal revenue,” he said Friday.

Our participation is expected to improve in coming days, but the sluggish return rate is paving a path to an undercount that could have dire political consequences for Hispanics and, in particular, for Texas.

According to the Census Bureau, as of August 2008, minorities make up one-third of the nation's population and are expected to be the majority by 2042. Hispanics make up the bulk of that growth.

As Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, told the Express-News Editorial Board this week, Latinos stand to lose political representation from school boards to Congress if the census isn't accurate.

Conventional political wisdom holds that Texas' projected population growth will mean four new congressional seats. A couple of those probably would go to Hispanic-dense areas such as Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. But projections aren't real numbers and don't make political wishes come true.

Census Bureau officials tell me Bexar County faces special hurdles in the decennial count. Bexar is 21st among the nation's 1,100 counties with a hard-to-count population.

Among the factors that give us that distinction are the large number of young children in our community and our high numbers of minorities and persons living in large households. These groups historically have been missed, not just in the forms that are mailed back, but in the more expensive door-to-door count.

Villarreal explains the need for the alarm: “It could mean the difference between receiving federal funds or having to tax ourselves with more local property taxes. It can mean the difference between UTSA receiving federal dollars ... and moving closer to becoming a Tier One research university. Or not. It could mean the difference between Bexar County getting a new congressional district. Or not.”

In short: It means the difference between you counting to the government. Or not.