2010 census prompts questions

It’s 2010. Do you know where the students are?

As the 2010 census count fast approaches, government officials and school administrators are starting to focus on college students, who have long been overlooked as an important population group.

Next week, the University will host the first meeting of a task force put together to address typically hard-to-count populations like students, ex-offenders and the elderly, GW Director of Government Relations Kent Springfield said. The task force was created by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s Office of Planning and will include GW undergraduate student Adam Wise, who will aid in the on-campus count.

Wise said his objective is to count as many GW students as possible.

“There is another side to the census beyond politics, it is a highly symbolic process. The census doesn’t allow for statistical representations of populations, meaning if you don’t fill out the census, you’re not counted,” Wise said in an e-mail. “It’s like a roll call of America, if you don’t raise your hand and say you’re here, you’re not counted.”

The census, which counts the population every 10 years, is used to determine government funding and political representation, an especially important issue for D.C.’s nearly 600,000 residents without voting representation in Congress.

Springfield said participation in the census may help the District reach its long-standing goal of voting representation.

“Obviously, in the District of Columbia issues involving representation have special meaning as well. Anything that adds to our numbers, and brings us closer to an official count of 600,000 residents, helps make our case that the city needs voting representation in Congress,” Springfield said.

Springfield said counting students as D.C. residents can make a noticeable difference on population-based decisions, including how much funding the federal government provides for health care, social services, roads and schools.

“I think there has been a lot of confusion regarding students and the census in previous years. It’s going to be important for our students to know that the law requires that, if they are living away from home, they need to be counted here in D.C.,” Springfield said. “I think most folks know that the census is used to determine political representation, but what they don’t realize is that it is also used to determine how much funding the federal government provides to localities.”

He added, “When you multiply that out over the 10 years until the next census, it means real money for the city.”

Students are especially tricky to count because of the residential standard of the census.

Springfield said the census’ “usual residence” standard means people with multiple homes should be counted where they spend the majority of their time. For full-time students, that often means D.C. and their residence halls or off-campus apartments.

“We have great hopes for a complete count here at GW in the spring. I think that same public service ethic that we see in students today carries over to civic duties like voting and the census,” Springfield said. “I think, come April, GW students are going to want to do their part.”

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