2010 Census Population Count Released! What the Data Means and What to Expect

Dec 23 2010 Census Population Count Released! What the Data Means and What to Expect

Author: 
Riamsalio Kao Phetchareun

(First in our Series: "Making Sense of the Census for Southeast Asian Americans")

Everyone talks about the Constitution and the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and freedom of religion, but I don’t think the right to be counted (via the U.S. decennial census) gets enough banter. Like all of our favorite Articles, the census is written into the constitution and has lasting political importance. This past Tuesday, the US Census Bureau announced the official population of the United States was 308,745,538 people as of April 1, 2010. If you’re like me, you are probably wondering how this impacts our Southeast Asian American communities and how does this Census data inform and impact policy and decision-makers?

What impact does the Census have on our communities?

First, more than 140 federal programs use census data to distribute hundreds of billions of funds annually for healthcare, child care, education, housing and economic development, job training, and more. States like Nevada, whose population increased steadily over the last decade, will gain a significant portion of federal funding for important programs such as the Home Investment Partnership Program, Medicaid, and other critical community development projects (e.g. hospitals, schools, and other infrastructure) to better serve  populations.

Second, the 2010 decennial count will impact our representation in the federal government through apportionment and redistricting. Apportionment involves dividing the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the states so that each member of the House represents, on average, the same portion of the population. As such, states such as Washington and Texas, that have grown in population considerably, will gain seats in the House of Representatives. On the other hand, states like Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio will each lose one seat. The president will transmit the apportionment numbers to the 112th Congress in January, and the newly apportioned legislature will convene in the 113th Congress, beginning in 2013.

Here’s a quick video created by the U.S. Census Bureau about how the “Apportionment Machine” works:

 

 

For an interactive map with population change, density, and apportionment changes over the decades, click here.

A more complex, yet equally important impact is the redrawing of congressional districts in each state, otherwise known as redistricting. In 36 states, redistricting is done through the state legislature. This often leads to the major political party in the state having significant influence on drawing boundaries, which it often draws to keep the balance of power in its favor. As a result, Congressional districts can have some of the most peculiar boundaries. A favorite of mine is Illinois’ 17th Congressional District because it looks like a cowboy boot with a spur:

 (from nationalatlas.gov) 

(image credit: www.nationalatlas.gov)

What can we expect next from the U.S. Census Bureau?

Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Census Bureau does not go on vacation for nine years after announcing its decennial count and delivering its apportionment counts to the President. Census products are released almost weekly, helping decision-makers, researchers, and community organizations stay better informed about the composition and characteristics of the populations they serve. For example, a breakdown of population counts for over 60 specific races/ethnicities should be available in the summer of 2011.

For a summary of the 2010 Census data products release schedule, click here.

In addition to the decennial counts, the Census Bureau also releases results of its American Community Survey (ACS). Starting in 2005, this innovative survey replaced the long form of the 2000 Census, and gives a more up-to-date look at the demographics and characteristics of communities and populations around the U.S. ACS estimates are published yearly. Important characteristics of the population are inferred from the survey, such as commute time, housing and rental information, and health insurance rates. Information on race and ethnicity is also available; however, in certain instances information may not be available (or may not be entirely accurate) due to sampling and threshold issues, although the Census Bureau is good at acknowledging its survey shortcomings, revising its estimates, and continually getting input from community organizations to be more accurate.

For more information about the ACS, click here.

In short, the Census impacts Southeast Asian American communities in direct and indirect ways. It is not just a tally, but a tally that influences federal funding to the states as well as representation at the federal level. By being aware of what is being reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, we can help inform decision makers and elected officials of the situation on the local level with Census data. And where there is discrepancy in what is reported and what we know, we can give valuable context to help shed insight on what these numbers are saying -- or not saying.

"2010 Census Population Count Released! What the Data Means and What to Expect" is the first post in our series “Making Sense of the Census for Southeast Asian Americans.” Make sure to check back for more Census posts soon!

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