Undercounting in the census has meant poor and minority communities have suffered from a lack of funding for public schools, community activities and heath care. The United States Census Bureau is asking for cooperation from groups like NOW in completing a fair and accurate census in the year 2000.
The census count, taken every 10 years, is used at the national level to determine the number of seats each state will have in the House of Representatives. Locally, the census counts are also used to determine funds and building specifications for everything from schools and community centers to roads and hospitals — a total distribution of $180 billion in critical services. It is the basis used by educators, leaders and policy makers to determine the needs for services and to gauge the economic, social and political status of people living in this country.
According to the Census Bureau, the 1990 census missed over 8.4 million people, and double-counted 4.4 million others. For many years, this has caused entire communities to be underrepresented or misrepresented by the government.
President Bill Clinton has joined the fight for a "full and fair census count," and has lead many discussions to encourage community leaders and media to promote the census. "A disproportionate number of the undercounted Americans were minorities," Clinton said. "What that means is that some of our most vulnerable populations are routinely omitted when it comes time to providing funds for critical services. An inaccurate census distorts our understanding of the needs of our people and in many respects, diminishes the quality of our democracy.
According to the Census Bureau, lack of promotion and false rumors about the census questionnaire are the main reasons for low responses to the count. Securing community involvement, and media, business and organizational sponsorship, and using state-of-the-art technology for counting are the key tactics being employed for the 2000 count. However, many members of Congress are opposed to providing the funds for such technology.
The problem of Congress denying funds for technology in the census is not a small one, according to ACLU General Counsel Frank Askin. "...(B)lack political representation is now directly threatened," Askin said. "But this time, racial justice is not under attack only from the courts. Congress has joined the assault."
NOW's Victory 2000 Campaign plans to elect 2,000 feminists by the turn of the century who will be in place by 2002, when the state legislatures will re-draw congressional lines based on the 2000 census, adding many new seats in the Sunbelt. NOW activists and other feminists have already been elected, and new candidates are running for state legislatures, positioning themselves to help create the new districts and make the next big breakthrough for feminist candidates.
NOW chapters and political and social activists can get involved in the fight for a full and fair census count in many ways, according to NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy.
"For the next year, chapters can hold briefings to discuss the census problems and ways to overcome them, tailored to suit your individual community," Gandy said. "We need to work with local media to dispel rumors and falsehoods about the census and hold phone banking and mailing drives. Individually, activists can fill out their census information and encourage others to do the same. Write or visit your senator or representative and encourage them to devote more resources to having a fair census count."
For more information on the Census 2000 initiative, go to www.census2000.org or call NOW at 202-628-8669 to find out how you can help.