Locals count down to 2010
While states and local governments depend on accurate U.S. Census counts for nearly $400 billion in annual federal funding and seats in the House of Representatives, they also depend on residents to participate in the count. Now, with less than five months before the deadline for sending back completed questionnaires, cities and counties are educating residents about the importance of participating in the 2010 Census.
Many local governments are using Complete Count Committees (CCCs), which reach out to residents by involving faith-based leaders, community groups, schools, companies and more. The CCCs primarily are funded and staffed by the various participants and their donors. “They decide who the hard-to-count populations are and then come up with strategies for contacting them and letting them know why it’s important,” says Jennifer Giles, a specialist with the Los Angeles Regional Census Center. For instance, she points out that one in eight people in Los Angeles County are foreign-born, making outreach to cultural groups and their trusted leaders vital.
So far, more than 7,500 CCCs have been formed, says Tim Olson, an assistant division chief who oversees the U.S. Census Bureau’s Complete Count Committee program. However, the recession has made local governments’ job harder because many of them have less money and staffers to prepare for the Census. For example, of the 11 cities examined for the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts’ report “Preparing for the 2010 Census: How Philadelphia and Other Cities Are Struggling and Why It Matters,” only Baltimore, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Phoenix had committed public funds to Census outreach efforts. During this census, local governments are relying more heavily on donations, and the federal government is providing some funding for connecting with hard-to-reach populations, according to the report.
To make the most of the resources available, Olson encourages cities and counties to incorporate into the Census the methods they currently use to communicate with residents who fall into the hard-to-count populations. “They may have the usual [stakeholders] they work with, but they need to think hard about who they usually don’t bring into the fold.”
Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
A total of 210,733 people were not counted as part of the population of 11 major U.S. cities in the 2000 Census. While there is no way to determine the financial cost of undercounting, a city’s political power can be affected by Census counts. Large cities with hard-to-count groups in their population, and which depend on federal funding to support those groups, are particularly affected by undercounting.
Source: Pew Charitable Trust, “Preparing for the 2010 Census: How Philadelphia and Other Cities Are Struggling and Why It Matters,” Oct. 12, 2009