April is almost here. It is a month for pouring rain, playing pranks, painting eggs, and paying taxes. But since this is a year ending in zero that means it’s also time for one more thing, filling out your Census.
It costs no money and takes a trifling amount of time, but it helps to determine how well represented your community is in government, how over $400 billion in federal funding gets divided, and how big of a market your community represents to businesses and organizations looking to expand.
Social Compact has assisted cities with programs to correct and challenge undercounts of their populations by conventional metrics. Last year alone Social Compact assisted twelve cities in challenging their Census population estimates and found almost 224,000 people who had been left uncounted. That’s at least $2 million in misallocated federal funding due simply to bad data.
Over the years we have found that one of the hardest things about community based economic development is simply a lack of good, reliable information. Because of a lack of response to the Census and other surveys, low-income neighborhoods in America seem smaller, poorer, and less dynamic than they really are and we will have to live with the consequences for a decade. Consequentially these neighborhoods will not get the services they need as banks will not realize there are people in need of financial services and grocers and shops will not know how many customers they are missing.
Making sure you and your neighbors have all submitted their Census form is a small, but incredibly important step. If the Census has not delivered a form to your mailbox, you can call 1-866-872-6868 to request one. You can also visit the Census’ website to request a form in a variety of languages from Albanian to Yiddish. Finally, any additional questions can be cleared up with a visit to any local Questionnaire Participation Center in your neighborhood.
Social Compact announced today the launch of its Washington, DC-based ‘CityDNA,’ a new easy-to-use web-based system that will serve as a one-stop-shop for visualizing and analyzing local market data. CityDNA aims to help local governments, investors and community groups understand and respond to the unique market characteristics of their communities.
The 2010 U.S. Census is fast approaching and, according to this story from NPR’s Morning Edition, the recession will make it even harder for the government to make an accurate count. The decennial count directly impacts the yearly allocation of more than $200 billion in federal funding to states, cities, and municipalities. Unfortunately, many people affected by foreclosures or job loss are in transitory living arrangements and are harder than ever to track down. Furthermore, Labor Department data show that traditionally harder-to-count minority groups, such as Latinos and African Americans, are experiencing higher rates of unemployment. And the Morning Edition reports that recent immigration enforcement laws may make minority groups even less inclined to share information with census staff. Listen to the report here to see what the U.S. Census Bureau is doing to attempt an accurate count.
Social Compact advocates for the expansion of traditional financial services in order to appropriately serve the needs of unbanked and underbanked populations in the United States. The high (and in many cases, exorbitant) fees applied to basic financial transactions such as check cashing, money transfers, etc. can often create significant barriers to wealth creation in low- and moderate-income communities.
Here are some startling facts:
• According to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, an estimated 40 million underbanked U.S. households spend at least $13 billion each year on more than 340 million non-bank transactions.
• In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a lifetime, the average unbanked worker spends upwards of $40,000 in check cashing fees.
• And, borrowers pay $4.2 billion every year in excessive payday lending fees states a report by the Center for Responsible Lending.
In an effort to reach out to the millions of Americans spending billions of dollars as they operate outside the financial mainstream, many banks have begun offering a range of low-cost services including checking accounts, low-fee check cashing, ATM-check cashing and financial education classes targeted to the individuals and families who have struggled in the past with the traditional banking system, either overwhelmed by complicated banking fee structures, difficulty maintaining minimum balance requirements or an aversion to mainstream banking practices.
For more information on efforts to bank the unbanked and underbanked, check out the following resources:
• No Bank to call Your Own, by Geoff Williams, in an AARP Bulletin Today article published Feb. 11, 2009
• Unbanked News, email newsletter from Charles Klingman’s (Deputy Director, Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Compliance Policy, U.S. Department of the Treasury)
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• Analysis of Alternative Financial Service Providers, by Noah Sawyer and Kenneth Temkin, and prepared in 2004 for The Fannie Mae Foundation by the Urban Institute Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
• Banking the Poor: Policies to Bring Low-Income Americans Into the Financial Mainstream, a September 2004 research brief by Michael Barr for the Brookings Institution.
• The Pew Charitable Trust’s initiative on Family Financial Security