The year 2010 may prove challenging for the new US Census. Many individuals have been displaced from the economic upheaval of the multi-year recession. The greater emphasis on enforcing immigration laws—in a new homeland security environment—has meant a growing lack of trust of government among some.
With a Census that occurs every decade, the federal government relies on this full count of its population for distributing congressional seats (in the US House of Representatives) among the states and for distributing federal funds. These funds support critical infrastructures, such as hospitals, schools, public works projects (like roadwork), emergency services, job training centers, and senior centers.
“More than $400 billion in federal funds is distributed each year to states based on Census data. States and local governments and businesses use Census data for planning roads, schools, emergency services, and business opportunities,” observes Ralph J. Lee, the Regional Director of the Seattle Region of the U.S. Census Bureau. Lee oversees the data collection for program surveys and the 34 local offices administering the decennial Census for the Seattle Region, which includes Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Northern California.
It is not only the federal and state governments that use Census data. Many organizations and businesses use Census information for supporting particular causes, planning for disasters, hiring skilled workers, researching potential markets, and promoting public health and preventing diseases.
The Census Questionnaire
This new Census questionnaire is the shortest in the Census Bureau’s history, with ten questions, such as “name, age, gender, race, Hispanic origin, and home ownership,” said Lee. The Census does not ask about the citizenship status of the respondents; however, since the first census in 1790, it has counted everyone living in the U.S., both citizens and non-citizens.
The collected information will be released in anonymous aggregate statistics.
“The Census Bureau is bound by law to protect the confidentiality of the data. The Census Bureau cannot share individual responses with any other agency or law enforcement organization,” said Lee. All Census employees have to take an oath of non-disclosure to protect the confidentiality of the data. The main goal is to count everyone “once and in the right place.”
To ensure the completeness and accuracy of the Census, the US Census Bureau follows “strict standards and procedures,” said Lee. In 2009, the Bureau verified all existing addresses on their list—with updates from state, local, and tribal governments. The questionnaire is available in five languages in addition to English: Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. The Communications Program integrates media advertising and targets outreach to specific populations to ensure there is full participation amongst the diverse communities throughout the nation. Their site reports their launch of a $300 million advertising campaign to rally participation for an accurate count.
Risks of Undercounting APIs
With many educational, healthcare and social service budgets pared down, the risks of under-counting in the Asian Pacific Islander community have many worried.
Linh Ngo, Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF) Program Class Member 2009 and Interim Census 2010 Project Manager, said that ACLF has been working to increase the likelihood of APIs to complete the Census by addressing API barriers and by increasing awareness of the Census. They conducted community focus groups among Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Japanese, Lao, Mien, and Vietnamese ethnic groups to identify barriers to completing the Census. They identified prevalent myths and facts and disseminated this information through a traveling display and on their website; these details have been translated into eight languages: Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, Laotian, Tagalog, Thai, Samoan, and Vietnamese. ACLF has also hosted a variety of outreach activities, trainings, and events.
Ngo suggests that the Census is particularly critical for communities of color for “voting power” and to “analyze the impacts of a growing, diverse US population.” Asian Americans have the largest ethnic population “that has non-English speakers, meaning (that) translated materials are important as well as languages courses,” she said. Bilingual services, public safety, early childhood education centers, English learning programs, public libraries, and student loans, all may be affected. Community services that serve elders in the community are funded in part by federal dollars, which are affected by Census numbers.
Christine Loredo, Marketing and Communications Supervisor for the International Community Health Services, said, “For organizations like ICHS, which rely on federal, state, and local funding, the Census can have a potentially big impact on our ability to provide affordable health services.” She noted that the Census Bureau has been working to build trust with the API communities to promote an accurate count. In the 2000 Census, it is estimated that 4.5 million people went uncounted.
The Census Form may be previewed online at http://2010.census.gov/2010census/how/interactive-form.php; however, for 2010, it must be a unique bar-coded form that must be completed and returned by mail. People will be able to get help at official Be Counted sites particularly if they did not receive a form in the mail or were not included in any other census form. Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC) may assist those who need language assistance. Language assistance guides may be accessed at http://2010census.gov. QAC and Be Counted sites may be identified via the Regional Census Center at www.2010.census.gov/partners/pdf/censusRegionMap.pdf.
2010 Census Myths and Facts:
Myth: “I DO NOT need to fill out the Census because I am not responsible for the mail. My spouse and/or children get the mail. If they bring the mailed form to me, then I will fill out the form. If they do not, then I do not need to fill it out.”
Fact: It’s the LAW! No matter who gets the mail, EVERYONE is required to fill out the Census. The Census is a count of everyone living in the United States including Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, Children and extended familiies in the same household
Myth: “I do NOT need to fill out the Census because I cannot read or write in English.”
Fact: It’s culturally sensitive! The Census will be available in most dominant languages/dialects. There will be members in your community that can help you fill out the Census.