Augusta counts on accurate census numbers

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If motorists find a little less traffic congestion on Washington Road before year's end, it won't be by accident.

It will be the result of another sort of congestion: the city's population.

Adaptive lights that adjust their timing based on traffic will soon be installed along this major thoroughfare and at two other locations - on Wrightsboro Road from Barton Chapel to Marks Church roads and at Fort Gordon Gates 1 and 2 on Gordon Highway, said Richmond County's traffic engineer Steve Cassell. Bulbs on the signals will be changed to LED lighting for energy savings.

Funding for the project comes from a $1.96 million energy block grant the city was approved for in August, said George Patty, the executive director of the Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission. Augusta is an entitlement community for such energy grants funded through stimulus dollars, he said, and the city's population qualified it for the money.

"We would have not gotten that block grant if we had been a smaller city," Patty said.

His comment neatly sums up the concern among some locally as the nation nears the midway point of the 2010  census and census takers begin hitting the streets this month. A low count could cost the city thousands - if not millions - of federal dollars. And, according to those whose mission it is to make sure as many people as possible get counted, there are demographic factors that can work against that goal.

Augusta has three of the key ones - a high poverty rate, a large minority community and lots of young folks.

Asked whether a community such as Augusta should be concerned about being undercounted, Saralynn Stafford, the lead staff person for Gov. Sonny Perdue's Complete Count Committee, had a one-word reply: "Definitely."

Stafford said Census Bureau officials told the committee during a presentation last year that high - poverty areas and young black males from 18 to 25 who "move around a lot" were among the hardest to count.

"So nobody knows whether they should count them or not in their forms," she said about black men  in this age group.

According to 2008 American Community Survey data, the median age of the city's black male population is 28. Comparatively, the median age of Augusta's white male population is nearly 10 years older, at 37.

Richmond is one of only 18 counties in Georgia - the state has 159 - with a majority African-American population, as 52.2 percent of its residents are black. That majority minority percentage rises to 55 percent when the city's Hispanic population, another ethnic group historically undercounted, is added.

A 2008 National Poverty Center study on the last census confirmed the reality of undercounts among these groups. The report said that while the Census Bureau estimated there was a 1.3 percent overcount in 2000, blacks were undercounted by an estimated 1.8 percent and Hispanics by 0.7 percent.

Add those factors to Augusta's nearly 24 percent poverty rate, which is among the state's highest, and it raises the possibility for a perfect storm that could threaten the city's access to the $400 billion in federal dollars doled out annually for the next 10 years.

The importance of getting the word out is a prime mission of the local Complete Count Committee, said co-chairman Mallory Millender, who is the historian for Paine College. He noted that on April 10 volunteers went door to door in the Laney-Walker Boulevard area to remind residents of the importance of returning census forms.

Millender said the 30901 ZIP code, which includes Laney-Walker and other parts of the city's urban center, is a prime area of focus for the group.

As of last week, however, certain parts of that area were lagging in mailing back census forms.

The state's mail-in participation rate is 69 percent, the same as Augusta so far. But some sections of the city's 30901 area are doing much worse - May Park is at 57 percent; Harrisburg also is at 57 percent; and East Augusta and Laney-Walker are both at 64 percent.

A lack of participation, leading to a potential undercount, could prove financially and politically staggering. Stafford said the Census Bureau estimates that each person counted is worth $1,700 in federal dollars to the state. She added that population estimates suggest that Georgia could get two new congressional districts if it gets an accurate count.

"They use those population estimates for a lot of formula-funding of federal programs back to Georgia ... determining the number of schoolrooms, school funding, road funding, health and human services type funding, all types of grants are determined on a population basis," Stafford said. "So, if we don't have an accurate count, the state is still going to be responsible for providing infrastructure for folks who perhaps didn't turn in their census forms. It costs the state more to do what it has to do if accurate numbers don't go back to the U.S. Census."

Census officials couldn't say whether Richmond County was undercounted in 2000, but Augusta was one of 34 cities that participated in a United States Conference of Mayors survey on the fiscal impact of a census undercount. In the 1999 survey, city officials said they expected a 2.5 percent undercount.

Large counties are affected even more by an undercount, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study for the U.S. Census Monitoring Board. The reason, the 2000 study states, is that counties with large populations generally experience undercount rates that are higher than the state average, making it likely that they will fail to receive their proportionate share of any funds distributed by the state based on unadjusted population counts.

Patty said he believes the city was undercounted, although he noted that annual population estimates leading up to the 2000 census had Augusta at about 190,000 but the final tally came in at almost 200,000.

"I'm sure we were, just based on the nature of our population," he said. "The more poor people you have, the more you're going to be undercounted. They're going to be reluctant to disclose information."

Eastview Community Center on Aiken Street represents the connection of federal dollars to population. Nearly half of the $510,000 to build the 9-year-old facility, which has two large meeting rooms, a kitchen and softball field among its offerings, came from Community Development Block Grant money. The amount of the grants, used to improve public facilities in low-income neighborhoods, among other things, can be affected by population loss.

"Without the CDBG, we couldn't have built the center," said Tom Beck,  director of Augusta's recreation and parks department. He estimated that his department has  received at least $3 million over the past 12 years from block grants. "Without those total population numbers, we wouldn't be eligible for some of the programs."

For east Augusta residents, the center has been an important gathering spot. Programs for seniors and activities such as bingo are held there, and it has held community and political forums.

"I think (the center) is important because it gives people a focal point to come together for various activities," said Bill Mitchell, its director.

East Augusta has one of the lowest mail-in participation rates for the census. Millender said residents in these poorer communities should make sure they are counted because many of the federal dollars that could be lost would be headed to their neighborhoods.

"This is free money to us based on our returning the forms," he said. "It's a chance to make a financial contribution without coming out of your own pockets. And it's the people usually who don't return the forms who benefit the most from the services provided.

"So the person is literally taking money out of their own pockets when they don't return the forms."

Counting Richmond County

Richmond County's official population from the past five  census counts.

1960: 135,601

1970: 162,437

1980: 181,629

1990: 189,719

2000: 199,775

2008: 199,486*

*Latest population estimate from the American Community Survey.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Comments (13) Add comment
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Trey Enfantay
9
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Trey Enfantay 05/03/10 - 02:14 am
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"According to 2008 American

"According to 2008 American Community Survey data, the median age of the city's black male population is 28. Comparatively, the median age of Augusta's white male population is nearly 10 years older, at 37."

This explains many things.

deekster
24
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deekster 05/03/10 - 05:35 am
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"Augusta is an entitlement

"Augusta is an entitlement community." This explains everything!!!! The "consolidation of the city and county" was the last effort to increase the tax base of a dying entity. Hallelujah!!! Then came the "federal grant monies". Manna from heaven!!! Free money!!! The hope of the poor and non-working class. The beginning of fortunes for the wealthy developers. "Federal Grants have replaced Heavenly Grace".

deekster
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deekster 05/03/10 - 05:39 am
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A census of the people shall

A census of the people shall be taken every ten years for the purpose of redistributing the House of Representatives (thereby the Electoral College). Not the Senate. Not the Supreme Court. No Federal Judges (they belong to the mysterious 12 Federal districts). Not Presidential Cabinet members.

deekster
24
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deekster 05/03/10 - 05:43 am
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We need to add back the

We need to add back the questions, "Are you insane?". "Can you read and write?" Is it not humorous that these were dropped, but RACE remains in our "color blind society". Color Blind by Federal Law, I might add. But D.C. still wants to know. MLK rest in peace. Your dream was for "heaven" and not earth.

deekster
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deekster 05/03/10 - 05:59 am
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We progressed, as governments

We progressed, as governments do over time, from wanting simply to know how many people were to be represented and where. On to free or slave. On to citizen or alien? (bring this one back). Idiot or insane? (bring this one back) Occupation? Everyones name? Everyone's employment? Military service or pension? Deaf, dumb, blind, convict? Value of your personal property? Birthplace (bring this one back)? Age? Schooling? Number of live births? (who knows any more) Number of years married (no one cares to count)? Number of times married (who can keep count)? Real Estate Value? Pauper ( I think we left them in England)? Months unemployed? Birthplace of parents? (interesting) Were you ever a slave? Bedridden or handicapped? Year of immigration? Months employed? Own or rent? Mortgage? Union or Confederate Soldier? Army Survivor? Mother tongue? Speaks English? Literate? Language spoken in home? Class of worker (now that impact your representation), Relationship of all members to head? Farm or city? Hispanic/Latino.Spanish? Hours worked a week? Educational attainment? Residence five years ago? Do you work for the government? How many week of unemployment? BENIGN QUESTIONS????

Little Lamb
47284
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Little Lamb 05/03/10 - 08:26 am
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Doesn't this sound like

Doesn't this sound like racial profiling and stereotyping?

Census Bureau officials told the committee that . . . young black males from 18 to 25 who "move around a lot" were among the hardest to count.

I guess it is okay to profile if you are the Census Bureau, but not okay to profile if you are law enforcement. Why is that?

Little Lamb
47284
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Little Lamb 05/03/10 - 08:34 am
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Mallory Millender,

Mallory Millender, co-chairman of the local Complete Count Committee, said:

"This is free money to us based on our returning the forms."

Mr. Millender is sadly mistaken. This money is not “free.” The minority of people who work for a living and pay income taxes had that money taken from them by a government intent on wealth redistribution.

Just tired
0
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Just tired 05/03/10 - 09:53 am
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Thank you Little Lamb but

Thank you Little Lamb but it's only racial profiling when it is for law enforcement purposes and in the best interest of the working populace. In the case of the census it's all about how to re-distribute your hard earned money to the useless and trash of society.

mike71345
75
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mike71345 05/03/10 - 10:09 am
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I thought it was only

I thought it was only conservative cranks who were in danger of being under-counted. Or was that last month's news?

Chillen
17
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Chillen 05/03/10 - 10:51 am
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Gotta get our fair share of

Gotta get our fair share of the "obama money" before his private stash runs dry.

corgimom
34774
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corgimom 05/03/10 - 11:38 am
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It is not true that the

It is not true that the Founding Fathers designed the census solely for representation.

America, a brand-new country, had just come from a long and bloody war with England. There were still very high tensions, and the likelihood of another war was probable.

The census was designed for defense purposes- the gov't wanted to know who was where, both to fight and defend, and who was available to fight. And from the very start slaves were counted.

It was also done for tax purposes and judicial reasons- jury pools were pulled from the census.

By 1850, the country was booming, and the census needed to be changed to reflect American society's needs. It had gotten to the point where there were so many people, just identifying heads of households were resulting in too many duplications. There might be 50 John Smiths in a city, so in 1850, everyone was listed by name.

That again was done for defense purposes- the War Between the States was brewing, and both sides wanted to know who was available to fight and their ages.

After the War, when public schools were started, the Census was used to help plan and locate schools and run school districts.

Blind, insane, deaf, etc? Municipalities wanted to know how much public money was going to be needed to take care of them, plus they wanted to be able to plan asylums.

As the American society changed, and grew, different questions were asked in order to give goverments an idea of what characteristics did Americans possess and to help plan the future. The history of censes in the US is fascinating.

Little Lamb
47284
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Little Lamb 05/03/10 - 11:55 am
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You know, everybody is

You know, everybody is wringing their hands over the purported “undercounting.”

Census Bureau officials told the committee that . . . young black males from 18 to 25 who "move around a lot" were among the hardest to count.

I’m thinking that these black males from 18 to 25 are likely to be overcounted because they can say they stay in four or five different addresses.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 05/03/10 - 05:59 pm
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FREE MONEY?!? What, is the

FREE MONEY?!? What, is the government just printing it out now without it standing for anything? Oh, yeah, they are.

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