Maryland Fears Census Undercount Could Curtail Federal Funds

By Megan Miller
Capital News Service
Wednesday, April 22, 2009



WASHINGTON - Maryland could get shortchanged on its share of $3 trillion in federal funding over the next decade if officials can't prevent undercounting of residents in the 2010 census.


The Census Bureau designated parts of Prince George's, Montgomery and Frederick counties, as well as Baltimore City, as extremely "hard-to-count" areas in the upcoming decennial census. Undercounting Marylanders could have long-term consequences for the state, since census results affect the distribution of federal funds for things like health care, education programs and public transit.



"For every individual that is not counted, you're talking about approximately $1,000 per year in federal funds that the state can garner for either goods or services," said Marco K. Merrick, director of communications and education for the Maryland Department of Planning. "If we miss an entire family of four, that's $4,000 in a year, which really equals $40,000 for the census' 10-year span."


Urban centers and high-poverty areas, immigrant and minority communities are most susceptible to miscounts, Merrick said. Minorities tend to be undercounted because some, especially immigrants, are mistrustful of and avoid sharing information with the government.


Maryland had the seventh-highest minority population in the country as of 2007, according to Census Bureau statistics. Blacks were the largest minority group, about 30 percent of the state's population, while Hispanics and Latinos were the second-largest group, about 6.3 percent.


Maryland's foreclosure crisis could also cause miscounting, because many people have been forced into temporary, hard-to-track housing arrangements. Prince George's County alone tallied 12,573 foreclosures in 2008. In the fourth quarter of 2008 the state's concentration of foreclosures-per-household ranked 18th in the nation, according to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.


The Census Bureau has established measures to handle unusual housing situations, said Arnold Jackson, associate director for the national census.


"We are seeing a surge of tent cities and unusual living arrangements ... However, we have always counted places like RV parks, labor camps, and people in shelters. We have special enumeration procedures in place."


It's not just money on the line, but also government. The 2010 census could affect state political districts because of population changes, said Michael J.G. Cain, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's College of Maryland.


In the past, Cain said, such changes contributed to political shifts in state elections. He pointed to demographic shifts recorded in the 1990 census that probably affected election outcomes in 1992 and 1994.


"Republicans doubled their number of state senators in 1994 to 15, and in the House almost doubled their number of delegates to about 40," Cain said. "Part of that had to do with the Republican revolution going on at the time, but it was also partly to do with redistricting."


To reach traditionally undercounted populations, the Census Bureau has invested more than $300 million in a major advertising campaign to begin in the fall, including $212 million in stimulus funds. Of that, more than $100 million is directed to media advertising, some nationally, but more than half at the local and regional levels.


Campaigns will target African Americans, Latinos, Asians, native Hawaiians, American Indians and Alaska natives, Jackson said. Preparations for the campaign included more than 70 focus group studies.


"We've done focus groups for Latino households who don't speak Spanish. We've done focus groups for Latino households from Central America," Jackson said. "We recognize that one size does not fit all, and this is an expensive proposition."


The Census Bureau also enlisted organizations already working in communities to help educate minorities on what the census means for them.


Martha Bazurto, director of the Latino Federation of Greater Washington, said 34 of its member agencies will help spread the word, both in everyday operations and at special events.


"In the Latino community, we've always said we want a bigger piece of the pie," Bazurto said, "and we can't get it if they don't count us right."

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