What the Census Reveals About America

We're plucky, dispersed, and a bit paranoid

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April 1 is National Census Day, which means there is a concerted push to get Americans to scribble out their information for counting by the government. The census will play a big role in everything from Congressional redistricting to allocating highway funds to figuring out where to build new schools. But, as millions of Americans come together for this decennial undertaking, it also reveals something about the character of Americans and of America itself. Here's how.

  • GOP Congressman: We're Too Paranoid Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry frets, "what worries me is blatant misinformation coming from otherwise well-meaning conservatives. They are trying to do the right thing, but instead they are helping big government liberals by discouraging fellow conservatives from filling out their census forms. Early census returns are showing that conservatives have been measurably less likely than liberals to return their census forms." This means right-leaning communities will be under-counted, unfairly reducing their representation.
  • Arab-Americans Striving to Fit In Newsweek's Roqaya Ashmawey reports that, although Arab immigrants long ago secured the right to declare themselves "white" so as to avoid what they feared would be discriminatory treatment, this is changing. Now, Arab-American leaders are lobbying for an Arab ethnic designation on the census. Their hope is that, rather than hiding quietly in middle class neighborhoods, Arab-Americans can proudly come together as one of America's unified--and influential--ethnic groups.
  • Why Small-Town Midwesterners Love the Census The New York Times' Monica Davey reports that by far the highest census participation rates come from tiny towns in Midwestern states like Nebraska and the Dakotas. Ironically, these are the nation's most sparsely populated regions. Davey speculates, "the extreme participation in the census may have less to do with a wishing for more federal money than with a certain sensibility. [...] some combination, they said, of being practical, orderly, undistracted and mostly accepting of the rules, whatever they are."
  • Why Big City Immigrants Don't The New York Times' Fernanda Santos reports that the lowest participation comes in poor immigrant communities in places like New York. Census workers dread the city, as they know "New York City, with its huge immigrant population and its bevy of unorthodox and sometimes illegal living arrangements, would be a difficult challenge. The early returns were not encouraging."
  • Slowly Recognizing Gay Citizens The Nation's John Nichols sighs, "One of today's great struggles is to assure that LGBT Americans count." While he's glad to see that same-sex couples will be counted as such, he says that's not enough and that the census' failure to incorporate sexuality reflects a public unwillingness to count our gay neighbors. He approvingly cites a group that "seeks an expansion of the Census in future years to ask whether responders are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender."
  • Latinos More Optimistic Than Thought Pew's Hope Yen delivers the good news. "What boycott? Close to 9 in 10 Hispanics say they intend to participate in the 2010 census, with immigrants more likely to say the government count is good for their community and that personal information will be kept confidential, according to a new poll." That poll "appears largely to put aside concerns that Hispanic discontent with the government's slow progress on immigration reform will curtail participation in the high-stakes count now underway"
  • ...Especially Foreign Born! Politics Daily's Bruce Drake delves a bit deeper. "Foreign-born Hispanics are more knowledgeable and positive about the census than native-born Hispanics and more of them correctly know that the head count cannot be used to determine whether they are in the country legally or not," he reports.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.