March 27, 2010 | Chronical Editorials | Original Article

California counting on the census

There's a lot of misinformation floating around about the 2010 census. Internet memes and conspiracy theorists have many Americans worried about what kind of information the government "wants." In fact, there's nothing to fear from the census form, which is every citizen's duty to complete.


If anything, the converse is true: We have much to lose if people don't fill out their census forms. So please, don't drop that stern-looking envelope in the trash. Take a few minutes and fill it out. Your family, your community, and your state are depending on you.

The census does more than count every person in the United States. It's one of the primary tools that the government uses to determine how much money should be spent on different projects (bridges, hospitals, schools and emergency services) in each community. This has real impacts - think about the lines in the emergency rooms in your community, or the crowded buses that you can't board after a long day at work. Filling out your census form is a small way to help officials make your life easier.

California residents have historically been undercounted in the census. Our state's mobile, diverse population is the source of our greatest strengths - but when it comes to the census, it's also a great weakness. People who move often tend to miss their census forms, or simply not fill them out. And all people of color have historically been undercounted in the census. These deficits cost California representation in Congress, and federal money, too. The Census Bureau estimated that undercounting Californians in the 1990 census (and we were undercounted, by about 838,000 people) cost the state more than $2 billion over that decade - and another seat in the House of Representatives.

This upcoming decade is going to be a difficult and demanding one for California's government services. Our state's budget outlook is grim, and the Sacramento Legislature is hamstrung by a two-thirds budgeting requirement. Many economists are anticipating high joblessness into the middle of this new decade: That means more people will be using an ever-shrinking number of services.

Against this backdrop, we're going to need all the federal help - and all the federal representation - we can get. Do your part. Fill out your census form.