Counting on counting everyone Menendez pushes for use of ‘scientific’ numbers

Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) testified before the New Jersey Reapportionment Commission recently to make sure that all minorities, children and low-income families get proper funding and representation.

The Reapportionment Commission, a 10-person, bipartisan panel, holds a hearing every 10 years following the federal census to collect information to set boundaries for the 40 legislative districts in New Jersey.

The hearing was to argue how to implement the numbers from the Census to best benefit the citizens in New Jersey. Menendez’s testimony argued for the commission to use Census numbers generated by scientific sampling to set these boundaries. These numbers estimate how many citizens were missed in the Census counts.

“The changing demographics in this state, and the nation as a whole, demand that our voices, the voices of Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans, be heard,” said Menendez at the hearing, adding that mostly minorities, children and low-income families are missed in these counts.

This hearing, which was the first of three in New Jersey, was held in the NJ Transit Headquarters on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. The other two hearings will take place in central and southern New Jersey.

One person, one vote

Menendez argued that using scientific sampling methods generates the most accurate numbers given by the Census. However, Republicans have been trying to block the Census from using these methods.

The scientific method used by the Census puts together a statistical pool to determine how many people were not counted, undercounted or overcounted in the census numbers.

Unfortunately, many minorities, children and rural and urban poor are found to be undercounted in the Census.

“For instance, 38,000, or five percent of Hispanics, were not counted in New Jersey in the 1990 Census,” said Menendez last week. “If the same undercount rate holds in 2000, that would mean almost 45,000 Hispanics will again be undercounted.”

According to Menendez’s testimony, New Jersey has the seventh largest Hispanic population in the country. “In Hudson County, 16,000 people were not counted in 1990, and 11,000 of those were Hispanic,” said Menendez. “If the same thing happens in the 2000 Census, the undercount in Hudson County will reach almost 20,000. In fact, Jersey City will have the 15th highest undercount in the nation.”

The big deal

The Supreme Court ruled that exact Census numbers are to be used to determine the number of legislators each state can have represent them in Washington.

However, no ruling was made to determine which set of numbers would be used to set district borders or federal funding within those districts.

Many federal agencies use the Census count to determine how they distribute federal funds.

“This is money that would help some of our neediest communities improve the education of our children, improve the health of our uninsured, and improve the health of our communities,” said Menendez when addressing the panel.

“It is estimated that, without the use of accurate Census data, Jersey City will lose more than $100 million in federal funding,” he added in his testimony.

These numbers will also determine the boundaries for New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts. Each of these districts needs to have an equal population. So any district can be made bigger or smaller based on the population provided by the Census.


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