An accurate census count is a vital national imperative. It not only means critical resources to under-served communities, but also accurate political representation -- an underpinning of democracy. African-Americans face great challenges. Our communities are disproportionately impacted by a host of social and economic issues. A correct census profile can help address this by ensuring appropriate funding for government services, strong political representation and civil rights enforcement.
The challenges facing African-Americans are many. Examples include:
• A quarter of all blacks live below the federal poverty level -- about twice the national rate. And more than a third of all black children live in poverty.
• The unemployment rate runs twice that of whites. Studies show that employers would rather hire a white male with a criminal record than an African-American man without one. Half of all black men in their 20s are jobless.
• In many cities, more than half of young African-American men do not finish high school; by the time they are in their 30s, 6 in 10 black males who drop out of high school are likely to spend time in prison.
• Thirty-eight percent of AIDS deaths in the U.S. have been among African-Americans, and of the more than 1 million people living with HIV in the United States, nearly half are black.
In the face of these obstacles, black communities cannot afford to be inaccurately counted in the 2010 Census. Unfortunately, previous census counts have worsened these challenges by undercounting blacks and other minorities, as well as children and the poor. According to one estimate, the 2000 Census missed nearly 1 million people of color and double-counted some members of the non-Hispanic, white population, overestimating their size by approximately 2.2 million people.
In addition, the District of Columbia and the 31 states affected by undercounting, including Maryland, lost more than $4.1 billion. California alone lost $1.5 billion, and Texas lost $1 billion due to the undercount. Many other states also lost federal funds: Louisiana lost $68.8 million in federal funds, Arkansas lost $17.1 million, Mississippi lost $12.5 million and South Carolina lost $9.2 million.
An inaccurate census count can result in the reduction of social, educational, health care, and transportation services that are so important to the African-American community. Last year, record numbers of African-American people registered and voted for the first time to help elect the first African-American president of the United States. They were educated and engaged in the process and saw results. The NAACP urges all Americans -- and African-Americans in particular -- to take the next step in participating in the democratic process and let their voices be heard again in 2010.
We must do everything we can to ensure there is an accurate and complete count of all communities. We cannot afford to be undercounted again.
Marvin L. Cheatham Sr. is president of Baltimore City branch of the NAACP. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.