WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – The census is coming, that once every decade event that requires America to count her citizens. Dubbed “Census 2010: A New Portrait of America,” the event approaches amid increased fears, distrust and anxiety in many communities toward government.
“We did a better job counting the majority population in 2000 than we did counting minorities,” said Arnold Jackson, associate director for the decennial census.
To remedy that and help underserved communities get their fair share of government funding that is distributed based upon the count, members of New American Media, a national association of over 2,000 ethnic media organizations, met July 30 with census officials.
The goal was to get information that explains the process and purpose of the census and generate news coverage that allows readers to better understand why it’s important to be counted, participants said.
“The census is important for congressional redistricting. It leads to the distribution of $3 trillion over the next 10 years. We want our schools, roads and fire stations to get the funds they need. All of this is based on the census count,” said Mr. Jackson.
“We count the populations where they are. It helps to determine the number of recreation centers and special education teachers. We make sure that political representation and the distribution of funds is fair,” he said.
Participants noted such challenges as the 10-20 million or more undocumented immigrants and the effort by states and local municipalities to create their own laws to deal with the issue.
“We have many new immigrants. We need to make sure we inform them through the media that the census is safe and by law we will uphold their confidentiality,” said Fernando E. Armstrong, director of the Philadelphia regional office that covers Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, D.C. and most of New Jersey.
“Our charge is to count everyone. We do not ask if people are here legally or not. We don’t care if they are here illegally,” he said.
But that may still be a hard sell to the Hispanic community. The word “census” is not even a word in their language, one participant said.
“They are not aware and are scared. It’s a very private community. They don’t feel safe exposing information to the government. It’s not something they’ve seen in their homeland,” Astrid Beltran of Telemundo told The Final Call.
The country’s Hispanic population reached 45.5 million in 2007, 15.1 percent of the estimated total U.S. population of 301.6 million. Hispanics remain the largest ethnic minority group, with Blacks second at 40.7 million. The Asian population is 15.2 million.
According to Mr. Jackson, the census has been redesigned to a seven question short form that will only take 10 minutes to complete. It will go out to 138 million addresses.
The process starts with canvassers that go out to make sure each address is correct. Then, an advance letter goes out followed by census forms, he said. If people respond to the forms, the Census Bureau doesn’t have to send anyone out to their home. A reminder is sent to those who don’t respond. The forms come printed in five languages and can be requested in 22 different languages. The forms are available online in 50 different languages, Mr. Jackson said.
To count millions of Americans the government will spend $13 to $14 billion, officials said. NAM members wanted to know how much the government would spend advertising the census. Officials said more than half of the budget would go to advertising and that thousands of jobs would be created by the census.
“We need canvassers, responders and management. We are hiring now through spring 2010,” said Mr. Armstrong.
Peter Dao, the editor of a Vietnamese newspaper, raised concerns that his readers had with the last census.
“In 2000 we ran a full page ad in the newspaper and we received numerous questions. They wanted to know why the government doesn’t send fact sheets with the questionnaires. Will the census affect Medicare? What will happen to the information (they) give?” he said.
“We want to create awareness so by March 2010 these questions can be answered. Children will also get information in school so they can prepare their parents,” said Mr. Armstrong.