Census set to begin; students required to fill forms in Mo.
The ancient biblical ritual of counting the congregation is set to begin again in the United States. The start of a new decade means that the population of the United States will be counted once again in the U.S. Census.
Washington University students must register in Missouri and not in their home states.
Census forms are sent out to all citizens every 10 years. The census counts the number of residents in each city, county and state, determining program funding and demographics. The most significant role of the census is to determine the number of congressional representatives allotted to each state and how to redraw district lines.
“The census is important not only for figuring out how many seats each state gets in the House, but also for allocating funds to local and federal programs,” Professor of Political Science Bill Lowry said.
While the 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students of the University only make up about 1 percent of St. Louis County, most of these students live in University City or Clayton. These two cities had a combined population of 49,772 in the 2000 census. As a result, the number of University students who fill out the forms can make a major difference in the funding that Clayton and University City receive.
Students currently attending college are required to fill out the census from the state where they reside on April 1, 2010. Because the last census occurred in 2000, when most undergraduate students were not even teenagers, nearly all undergraduates are filling out the census forms for the first time.
“The census is the key to ensuring that St. Louis gets the amount of federal funding it needs and also for ensuring that Missouri’s representation in Congress accurately reflects the actual population,” freshman Charles Herrera said.
Herrera knew that he was required to fill out the census information in St. Louis and not in New Jersey, his home state. He had no objections to this law because of the amount of time he will spend in Missouri until his graduation.
Students have also noticed a marked difference in the national awareness of the census this year.
“I find it interesting that the census is targeting youths,” senior Carter Malouf said, citing commercials about the census that have aired on television in the last few months.
Malouf acknowledged that while the commercials are not very informative, they do raise awareness about the census, which she believes is important for everyone to participate in.
“It’s really important for people to fill the forms out, because states can be misrepresented and not receive the funding that they need,” Malouf said.
Missouri has nine congressional districts and has not lost a seat in Congress since the 1980 census. Lowry does not expect that Missouri will lose any seats in Congress this year, but it is possible that the districts will be redrawn.
“Redistricting is an essential thing to do because people do move and the state legislature wants to have districts drawn so they represent comparable numbers of people, but they are often drawn for political purposes,” Lowry said.
While some state legislatures have drawn controversy for biased district lines in the past, such as Texas’ redrawing in 2003 after the 2000 census, which went to the Supreme Court, Lowry expects the state legislature, controlled by Republicans, to work with Democrats to help keep all of the incumbents in power. Although there is relatively little controversy around incumbent gerrymandering, Lowry cautioned that redistricting in its current form can lead to stagnancy in Congress.
“The consequence of redistricting is a reason why it’s so hard to unseat incumbents in this country,” Lowry said. “It’s something we need to rethink, about whether it’s a good thing or not.”
Editor’s note: Herrera is a Forum columnist.