Our bloated government does a lot of things it shouldn’t, but the decennial census is one of the handful of federal activities the Constitution approves of. The census was intended simply to determine the number of seats each state would have in the House of Representatives. Today, census data is plugged into government formulas to determine how more than $400 billion in subsidies from the federal welfare state are allocated to state and local governments.
The impetus to grab federal dollars caused controversy back in December when the National Association of Latino Elected Officials distributed a census promo that read, "This is how Jesus was born…Joseph and Mary participated in the Census." The group’s website says that, “For each uncounted Latino, more than $11,000 [in federal funding] will be lost over the next decade.” Jesus did get stuck being born in a manger because Joseph and Mary couldn’t find proper shelter, but the Bible doesn’t say that the census led to Bethlehem receiving more affordable housing subsidies from Rome.
I just received a newsletter from the town where I reside. It says that my town was named the best place in the state to raise kids by BusinessWeek, 11th best place in America to move by Forbes, and one of the top 100 best places to live in America according to Relocate America. Sounds like my town’s doing pretty good on its own, but on page six I’m hit with a plea to make sure I participate in the census so the town can grab federal dollars:
When you fill out the census form in April, you’re making a statement about what resources [the town] needs going forward…Accurate data reflecting changes in our community are crucial in deciding how more than $400 billion per year is allocated for projects like hospitals, public works projects, infrastructure improvement, senior centers, schools and emergency services. That’s more than $4 trillion over a ten year period for things like new roads and schools, and services like job training centers.
Not a single item listed by the newsletter is anything the federal government is empowered to fund. There’s no practical or moral reason why my thriving town should receive money from taxpayers in other locals across the country. Nor should taxpayers in my town be forced to send a portion of their paycheck to Washington so politicians can play Santa Claus to their parochial interests. As such, the pork politics surrounding the census is another reminder that a return to fiscal federalism is desperately needed.