Sunday, January 3, 2010

Will you be counted? Where? Are you an "all other person"?

Hat tip to Marc Anthony Neal at NewBlackMan for the Ron Daniels reference.

Most of us don't have to worry about whether we'll be counted in the 2010 census. Nor will we have to worry about which state or locality considers us to be residents. We might frown a little over which race/ethnicity boxes to check, and we'll all have opinions as to which boxes other people should check. (Be honest, now!) But for the most part we'll answer the questions and go about our business.

What is worth worrying about is that the census, however it turns out, directly affects apportionment (Congressional representation) across and within many states. And minority head counts (Black, Latino, and Native American, anyway) will once again cause controversy. Do we count all persons? Do we have to include people we don't want to count? Who is this "we"?

Let's start with a hard example: Do we count prisoners where they are being held, or where they and their families have official residence? Can we move prisoners for the sake of "packing" one district or another? Dr. Ron Daniels is not the first to discuss this but I like the way he frames it in his December 22, 2009 Vantage Point column:

The Constitution mandates that every person living in the United States be counted every ten years. As mentioned in a previous article, the Census is more than counting heads. The data collected is critical to the allocation of some $400 million annually in federal tax dollars to state and local governments for schools, housing, hospitals, transportation, roads and safety forces. Census data also determines the apportionment of political districts...

However, one issue surfaced, that Secretary [of Commerce Gary] Locke seemed perplexed about how to resolve, the huge number of incarcerated Blacks in the prison-jail industrial complex who are counted in the communities in which they are confined rather than in the communities where they and their families live. On the surface, it would not appear to be a major problem. However, in reality, if we recall that Census data is used for the distribution of resources to state and local communities and the apportionment of political representation, this anomaly has devastating consequences for Black communities across the country. According to information compiled by the Fair Count to Fair Share Initiative of the Praxis Project, there are at least 21 counties in the U.S. where incarcerated persons comprise 21% of the population. “In 173 counties, more than half of the Black residents reported in the Census are prisoners.” In New York, “most of the state’s prisoners (66%) are New York City residents, but the vast majority of them (91%) are counted as residents of upstate prisons.” Because of this fact, there are several state senatorial districts in New York that only meet the minimum population requirement because the incarcerated are included in their count. Indeed, there are probably congressional districts around the country that only meet the population requirement because of the incarcerated population.

Let me be clear, what this means is that all across this country, Black prisoners are being counted/used by communities as the basis for securing a share of the $400 million in federal tax dollars distributed annually and political representation to advocate for their interests at the state and national levels. Meanwhile, Black communities from which the vast majority of the incarcerated come are denied the desperately needed resources to correct the deplorable conditions that have created a pipeline to prisons in the first place. This is tantamount to an unwritten, unspoken, de facto modern day 3/5 Compromise... [emphases added]

Full article HERE.

1 comment:

Peter Wagner said...

There is a website about the Census Bureau's prison miscount and prison-based gerrymandering at