Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Questioning myself about USA 2010 Census

Rear constructions and a tent. Personal archives.
I remember when I was a child, the Census day was really important. You stayed at home with your family the whole day, waiting for the person in charge to ask the Census questions, usually a teacher.
And this 2010 Census in USA is my first one here. The questions, pretty simple, nothing about the quality of the house/apartment. And what is more, I discovered that I am classified under a new race: Argentine. That´s a good solution –at least for me- because I have Spanish, Italian and German blood, and I´m not sure how to classify myself. For my kids, they have then, same as mine, plus Yugoslavian and Arabic. What a mess! But this is America. I imagine there will be a new classification in the future for my third generation.
So, I am questioning myself about the ¨real¨ numbers and poverty situation reflected on the Census. Because, so many people is living in tents, cellars, garages, sub rented rooms, storages, trailers and even cars. I don´t know how they can show it. Lots of information will be hidden for ever.
It seems it is not only my concern, here is a forum at Urban Omnibus, called ¨Mapping the Holes in the Census Count¨, dated March 24th, 2010, from where I´ve taken this excerpt:
Rear constructions. Personal archives.

¨The 2010 Census has begun – you should have already received your questionnaire. And if the 2000 census is any indication only 45% of us New Yorkers have sent it back. In the next few weeks, census workers will begin making house calls to try to gather data from non-responders and to seek out people with no fixed address or live in non-standard housing.
Steven Romalewski – familiar to Omnibus readers from his report on OASIS, the Open Accessible Space Information System, last September – is tackling the issue of undercounted populations with a new website that highlights regions that are likely to be undercounted and thus underrepresented. Hard to Count 2010 helps clarify both the logistical challenges of counting the third largest national population in the world (or about 4.5% of human beings) and shed light on who the winners and losers are under the current census system.
The map can be filtered according to various characteristics that hinder an accurate count, including prevalance of poverty, of rental units, of transient laborers and of language isolation. As his map shows, New York City’s high immigrant pool, high renter rate and high proportion of people depending on public assistance make the city’s count particularly difficult.  Perhaps as a similar measure to encourage participation, the Census Bureau is running its own live-feed interactive map highlighting the highest-response rate regions (Montana has already sent back 33% of its forms! New York’s Lyon’s Falls Village, population 591 (2000 census) already has a response rate of 70%!). What both maps show is that New York City is losing millions of dollars in funding to better counted communities.
Census workers may make up to six visits to individual homes before turning to neighbors to help fill in missing data. Through heavy regional advertising and community outreach, officials hope to fill in the holes of undercounted populations. But the measures are not always enough to combat the issues that arise in highly transient, non-English-speaking, or poorer populations that are hesitant to be counted by the government for a whole host of reasons.¨

I entered the Hard to count site, and this is what I´ve found today for California:
¨Be Counted! The latest 2010 participation rate for California is 51% (as of 4/1/2010). Visit the Census Bureau's Take 10 Map to see how your area compares with others locally and nationwide. (Participation rate = the percent of forms mailed back by households that received them.) In 2000, the participation rate for this state was 73%.¨
 51% against 73% in 2000! I don´t think it´s a language issue. Questions were very basic and anybody with civic culture could ask a person of his/her community to translate. In my opinion, people do not want to declare about housing and population real situations, because they feel it´s highly compromising. They don´t trust on the government´s confidentiality. I wouldn´t trust either, considering lots of inspectors have been sent to the streets to search for illegal constructions. 
A house in a rural area of California. Personal archives.
After 30 years of architectural career in NYC, Mr. Tom answers to the Forum that he has seen: structures not on the streets; below grade accommodation; commercial building dwellers; empty building living; campers. It is worthwhile to read his comments. He finalizes saying:
¨Campers –
This is perhaps the saddest category, but one only needs to practice observance to see the increase of people living in their cars or campers. Typically this occurs in industrial areas and around parks and can be observed in every borough.
Missing a 60 story apartment tower is quite dramatic, but these less glamorous situations are where the meaningful under count lies.¨

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