African-American count is critical U. S. Census chief says

newsroom@tri-statedefender.com | 6/10/2009, 7 p.m.

NNPA News Service

WASHINGTON - For years there have been charges that African Americans are under-represented in the U. S. Census, which is conducted once every decade.

        Arnold Jackson
      “It’s very possible that some African Americans or Spanish speaking persons were under-counted in previous Census because there may have been some belief that making face-time with the government was not in their best interests,” acknowledges Arnold Jackson, chief operating officer for the decennial Census.

      Jackson, who is African American, says although the last Census in 2000 had an under-count of less than one-half percent, he believes many more Americans have gone uncounted in the past because they failed to return data. Fewer than 60 percent of African Americans returned their 2000 Census questionnaire compared to 77.5 percent of whites, according to the Census Bureau.

      This is the reason that Jackson says that the next Census, set to begin April 1, 2010, will involve a full court press – and new strategies to help reach those who have gone uncounted in the past.

      “We’ll have 140,000 people running across the country verifying addresses and updating our database,” Jackson said in an interview with the NNPA News Service.

      But, the Census Bureau can’t count who they can’t find. In the past, some racial minority groups have shied away from giving the government accurate information or mailing in questionnaires.

      With an estimated 310 million people residing in the United States, counting each person is one of the largest, most arduous processes the government undertakes. The Census Bureau is making it a priority of locating “hard-to-count” groups such as African Americans and immigrants. They will start by sending 145 million households a questionnaire with 10 questions that will be available in multiple languages. The questionnaire has been revised and streamlined from the previous long form version that many considered too intrusive.

      The questionnaires, which every citizen will be required to answer by law, will provide the Census Bureau with a bulk of its data. Jackson stresses that the form will only take 10 minutes to complete and that all responses will be used for statistical purposes only.

      According to Census.gov, the U.S. Census Bureau does not ask about the legal status of respondents in any of its surveys or Census programs.

      In addition, an army of Census takers will essentially canvass every neighborhood across the country on March 30th to make sure their address lists are accurate. The 2010 U.S. Census will cost taxpayers almost $12 billion, according to a 2008 budget request submitted by the Department of Commerce.

      Jackson stresses that ignoring the Census can have long standing consequences for communities. For example, the 2010 Census data will directly affect how more than $3 trillion in federal funding is allocated to local and state agencies and programs over the next 10 years.