Like any company that wishes to stay in business, our government needs to take an inventory on a regular basis. Using a short, 10-question form that asks basic questions like the number of residents per household, names, race and ethnicity, the 2010 census will try to understand and project demographic changes.
There is a lot at stake in the short term. Census data determines state representation in the House of Representatives. Census data is used to make decisions about local services and will be used to allocate more than $400 billion in federal funds.
For something that is so simple, the United States census is saddled with an outsized level of conspiracy theories and paranoia.
While waiting in line at various Starbucks locations over the past week, I casually and informally asked people if they filled out their census form. Many did not. Almost every person who did not fill out the simple, 10-question form said something to the effect that they did not want the government to know too much about them. It isn’t the paranoia that is so frightening, but how misplaced it is.
Like everything else, the census is not without problems. The 2000 census was criticized for undercounting minorities. This year’s census aims to address this complaint, something that dovetails into a bigger issue.
United States history is replete with work that was done by a lower class, the most famous of which were slaves. For enumeration, each slave was considered three-fifths of a person. We have made a lot of progress since those days. Slavery and discrimination are illegal. Labor laws have made many of the past abuses illegal. Unfortunately, we still have a lower class—our undocumented immigrant population, most of whom speak Spanish.
There is no arguing that they are here illegally, but the fact is, that like the slaves of 200 years ago, there are groups that are happy to capitalize on our undocumented immigrants for their political gains. They are happy to use the numbers of our undocumented immigrants to boost their seat count in the House of Representatives. States that have a relatively high number of undocumented immigrants—like California and Texas—will benefit, while states that have a relatively low number of undocumented workers—like Maine—will suffer.
Much has been written about the costs that we incur from our undocumented immigrants, but there are other interests that benefit from their existence here. Companies benefit from low labor costs, and their unclaimed income tax returns pad our social security funds. Univision, the fifth largest television network in the United States, and which serves a primarily Spanish speaking population, sees an untapped marketing opportunity in its viewers and is exhorting them to fill out the census form. In turn, Univision will attempt to attract more advertisers.
The use of our undocumented immigrant population to help a few states pad their seat count is unethical. It is unfair to the other states and it is unfair to the immigrants. Unlike slavery, today’s lower class may not be formal or legal, but its tacit acceptance by our government and business interests that nonetheless institutionalize it.