Cash, Power At Stake In 2010 Census

Cash, power at stake in 2010 census

By Dan McDonald
The MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), December 22, 2008

What amounts to a nationwide once-a-decade head count has some in Massachusetts nervous.

Potentially at stake in the 2010 U.S. Census: A Congressional seat and federal funding. Specifically, more than $300 billion in federal dollars is distributed based on the census.

While the results are still more than a year away and the U.S. Census Bureau won't start canvassing homes until next spring, this decade's population trends already have some local officials eyeing the count with trepidation.

From 2000 to 2006, the state's population grew 1.4 percent, relatively stagnant when compared with the 6.4 percent growth of the nation as a whole, according to the Census Bureau's Web site.

In 2003 and 2004, Massachusetts was the only state to lose population.

Jessica Schafer, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-7th, when asked if there was potential for the state to lose a Congressional seat, said Friday, 'Certainly I've heard some very serious discussion about that.'

The way the districts are split up right now, each constituency has at least 630,000 people.

That formula, however, may change depending on 2010 numbers, said Cesar Monzon, a Framingham resident and partnership director for the Census Bureau's Boston office.

Such evidence is enough for the accurate census count to land on the MetroWest Growth Management Committee's list of legislative priorities.

In an attempt to ensure the most accurate count possible, that group is advocating for $3 million in state funding to be used to identify 'hard to count communities' that have high numbers of students, renters, and immigrants.

Georgia, California, and New York have undertaken efforts to help census counts, according to a statement from the growth management committee.

'Money and power are at stake,' said Andrew Flanagan, assistant planner for the committee, earlier this month. 'Those things are important.'

For its part, the bureau is laying down an outreach network that will hopefully drive home the importance of the count. Student organizations, churches, town departments, and cultural leaders will be recruited to emphasize the message to the masses.

Next April, 89,000 people will begin canvassing homes in New England and New York for the census.

Carly Burton, acting deputy director for the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, estimated about 1 million foreign-born people, which 'includes folks of all different immigration statuses,' reside in the state.

'It will be really critical to count the immigrants. This is a population that has been critical in stemming the population decline in the past,' she said.

Communities with a high immigrant population, including Framingham, may reach out to that demographic to soothe fears about the census.

'I'm ready to do whatever it takes,' said Framingham Town Clerk Valerie Mulvey.

While census information is confidential, there is a misguided but pervasive fear that filling out the form could bring legal ramifications for immigrants.

'The census is confidential,' said Mulvey. 'The problem is making sure that people understand that. We have to build that trust.'

Misinformation, said Manoel Oliveira, pastor of Nova Vida Community Church in Framingham, tends to perpetuate itself in a town like Framingham.

'There is fear even with people who are completely documented because of the hostility in Framingham,' he said. 'It's become a hostile town for immigrants. They would rather stay on the margins.'

Oliveira said he has yet to be contacted about any census outreach.

Hudson Town Clerk Joan Wordell, meanwhile, indicated there is an inherent fluidity in any population count.

'You always have people moving, getting married, people dying, babies being born,' said Wordell. 'It's constantly moving.'

Wordell has identified swaths of Hudson's downtown where there is a high concentration of renters, which could make the count problematic. Her office has also identified properties on the fringes of Hudson that can only be accessed through out-of-town roads.

'We're trying to hit every address we know of,' she said.

While the bureau strives for accuracy, some local estimates of municipal town population estimates may be off.

Framingham's latest head count has the town's population hovering around 66,900.

'I thought it was low by several thousand,' said Mulvey.

In Marlborough, the city's own census indicates a population of 38,000. City Clerk Lisa Thomas suggested that number is low.

Said Karen Kisty, executive aide to Mayor Nancy Stevens, '2010 will be important for getting jobs and making sure your interests are represented in Washington, D.C.'

Michael Mershon, the press secretary to U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-3rd, suggested there were too many variables to dread anything just yet.

He said the Congressional splits are dependent not only on state population but on the country's population as a whole.

'Obviously we know about it, but there's no point in panicking,' he said.

He later added, 'If you create good-paying jobs the population will take care of itself.'