hey census, what about san francisco's non-english speakers?

With the 2010 United States Census process now underway, it's important our community takes the necessary steps to ensure that everyone gets counted. In San Francisco, officials are concerned that the survey could neglect city residents who don't speak English as a primary language: Lack of diversity in census a concern.

Unlike years past, an advanced letter notifying families in San Francisco of the 2010 Census is being issued almost completely in English. A handful of the advance copies in San Francisco feature Spanish as well as English, but none have Chinese writing. In San Francisco?!

The lack of language diversity has drawn the attention of City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who want the U.S. Census Bureau to print multilingual advance letters. Here's an excerpt from the letter they sent to Census Director Robert Groves about their concerns:
We believe this is a serous mistake that will result in a national undercount and will disproportionately harm San Francisco and other areas with large immigrant communities. As you know, while the decennial census has never succeeded in accurately counting every person in the United States, some groups have been much more severely undercounted than others in each decennial census. The Bureau's multilingual advance letter in 2000 was a laudable attempt to minimize this "differential undercount." We fear that the Bureau's abandonment of that effort this year will result in an unnecessary and unfair undercount of those who speak English as a second language or not at all.

Because San Francisco has a large number of foreign-born and non-English-speaking residents, and because the Census already is likely to undercount such residents, your decision will have a disproportionate effect on San Francisco as compared to most other jurisdictions. Current Census Bureau data indicates that more than one-third of the City's residents -- over 270,000 people -- are immigrants. Of those foreign-born San Francisco residents, 61% are from Asian countries and another 21% are from Latin America. And nearly half of the households in San Francisco -- over 325,000 resident in all -- speak a language other than English at home. Over 26% of the City's resident speak an Asian language at home 12% speak Spanish, and almost 7% speak another Indo-European language. Of those residents who speak a language other than English at home, more than half report that they do not speak English very well.

The effects of an undercount will be serious. An inaccurate Census count could deprive the City of millions of dollars in government funding, hinder the City's ability to provide vital services to its residents, and undermine our democracy by distorting electoral districts. Federal and state agencies use Census data in deciding how to allocate funds for government programs, and the cumulative fiscal effect of undercounting thousands of San Franciscans could amount to millions of dollars. Indeed, a Social Compact report prepared for the City in 2007 and a separate report commissioned by the U.S. Census Monitoring Board in 2001 demonstrate that the undercount of San Franciscans in the 2000 Census cost the City at least tens of millions of dollars in federal funds.
According to current census data, there are 325,000 residents in San Francisco who speak a language other than English at home. Can Census data truly be accurate if it neglects the city's significant non-English speaking community?

When it comes down to it, Census numbers equal money. Federal and state funding. Agencies use Census data in deciding how to allocate funds for government programs, so you bet your ass that city officials are going to fight anything that could lead to a possible undercount. More here: City Hall takes on the U.S. Census -- again!

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