The Census form: Send it back!

by William Reed

Census-bag-Black-hand, The Census form: Send it back!, News & Views It’s time to be counted. Every day, the average American gets 1.7 pieces of direct mail; in March they will get another in the form of the 2010 Census. The 2010 Census is being mailed to more than 130 million households, including America’s 8.5 million Black family households. Fully a third of these households aren’t expected to send their forms back.

Rating just below a “come to Jesus meeting,” filling out the 2010 Census should be a high priority item for African Americans. The head of National Urban League, Marc H. Morial, is a leading voice urging Black Americans “to fill them out and mail them back.” Morial says the 2010 Census is important “because the stakes for our communities are so high.”

Critical as it is, in past censuses, African Americans have been undercounted at worse rates than any other racial or ethnic group. Eliminating the gap between Black Americans and other Americans in the Census count is essential to ensure that our communities receive their fair share of federal funds, ensure full political representation, and provide for effective enforcement of civil rights laws.

During the 2000 Census millions of people were not counted – including disproportionate numbers of African Americans and other minorities. As a result of this undercount, these communities lost political representation and needed funding for services. Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, says the 2000 Census undercounted African-Americans by nearly 3 percent.

In contrast to the times of the 1940s and ‘50s when African Americans were “invisible,” during the last two Census counts, African American males have diluted Black power by being exactly that. According to the Census, as of July 1, 2007, the estimated population of African-American residents in the U.S. – including those of more than one race – was 40.7 million and 13.5 percent of the total population.

The Census Bureau expects the African-American population to grow by more than 70 percent between now and 2050, so an accurate count in 2010 will influence the education of our children, the health of families, and the economic and political power of African-American communities for the next 10 years and beyond.

The Census is used to distribute government money to communities for job training, schools and hospitals. It’s also used by businesses to decide where to open new shops, grocery stores, restaurants and fund infrastructures. And it is used to determine representation in Congress, state legislatures and local governments.

Communities that are undercounted lose out in all those areas. The fact is, every person who is not counted costs their communities more than $14,000 in funds for schools, health care and jobs – and diminishes African-American influence at all levels of government. Getting counted will bring Black communities more respect, resources and political representation.

“We can’t move forward until you mail it back,” says the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census Bureau wants African-American men especially to understand how important it is to fill out and return their 2010 forms.

Traditionally, African American males have not participated, but this may be the route to put a good number of them back to work.

Once you get your form in the mail, fill it in and mail it back in the postage-paid envelope provided. The 2010 Census form is just 10 questions, such as name, sex, age, date of birth, race, household relationship, and whether you own or rent. “Some people are skeptical of answering questions from the government and have growing concerns about privacy, but the 2010 Census is important, easy and safe,” says Morial.

The 2010 Census advertising campaign is calibrated to reach the average American 42 times with messages about the importance of participating in the census. Much of the advertising is targeted toward media primarily for minority and ethnic audiences.

The estimated cost for the 2010 Census is $13.7 to $14.5 billion. Mailing it back is a cost savings for the 2010 Census. For each percentage point the mail-back rate increases, the Census Bureau saves taxpayers $80 to $90 million in costs associated with having to send Census takers to non-responding households.

William-Reed1, The Census form: Send it back!, News & Views William Reed is president of Black Press International, Email him at