A recent editorial in the Washington Post reminds us that the U.S. Census will have a lasting impact—not only for funding of public services and representation in Congress, but also for securing the role of historically undercounted minority groups such as Latinos. ICE’s ramped up enforcement strategy over the last several years has made it more difficult for some Latinos to feel confident that their information won’t be turned over to immigration authorities, despite assurances to the contrary. Nonetheless, for a growing group like Latinos, ‘not giving their information to government enumerators would reduce the flow of federal funding and even deny themselves representation in Congress.’ This year, however, is shaping up to be different.

In the 2000 census, the return rate for Hispanic households was only 69% compared to a non-Hispanic rate of 79%. To reduce that gap, the Census Bureau has spent about 20% of its advertising budget this year on ads aimed at the Hispanic community, hoping to help correct the past return rate. Results from a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center are positive, with 70% of Hispanics saying that the census is good for the Hispanic community. The only troubling result from the survey is that just 69% of foreign born and 57% of native born Hispanics know that the census cannot be used to determine an individual’s immigration status.

The 2010 census will also determine state representation in the House of Representatives. The latest Census Bureau data shows Texas gaining four seats, and Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina each gaining one seat. Most of these states have seen growth in the Hispanic population, and Hispanics will likely play a huge role in choosing the new representatives. In fact, the number of Latino voters increased by 28.4%, or 2.2 million, from 7.6 million in 2004 to 9.8 million in the 2008 Presidential election. These gains will, if participation goes as expected, be mirrored in the 2010 census.

Beyond determining representation in Congress, the 2010 census will help allocate more than more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year. The funding includes money for hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers, bridges and other public works projects, and emergency services. According to a 2009 research report from the Census Bureau, roughly $435.7 billion in federal grant and direct assistance money “was allocated based on Census Bureau data”—including “annual population estimates, Decennial Census data, and other Census Bureau sources”—in Fiscal Year (FY) 2007.

As of 2007, Latinos represent more than 15% of the U.S. population. Although there is no dispute that their votes count, they are likely to count even more if the percentage of Latino households returning their forms increases. That makes the ten questions, ten minutes Census campaign a small but crucial investment in the future.

Photo by Jonathan Laurence