Sarah Welch, of the Local Government Academy, manned a table with information on the 2010 Census at a recent meeting on the importance of counting each American resident on Feb. 4. (Photo/Kelly Thomas)
The U.S. Census Bureau is reaching out to local government to ensure that every American citizen and resident is counted in the 2010 Census.
The mayor’s and county executive’s office worked with the Local Government Academy to hold two meetings for elected officials in Allegheny County, one in January and one Feb. 4, at CCAC’s Allegheny campus.
The Local Government Academy is a nonprofit that promotes excellence in local government through education. The census is important to local government because it not only determines allocations of federal money, but voting districts as well.
Pam Golden, a media specialist from the Philadelphia Region Census Bureau who gave the presentation, said “It’s used to determine the needs of the community.”
This year, in an effort to get a complete, accurate count, the Census Bureau made some changes. The biggest is that every household will receive a short, 10-question form that should take about 10 minutes to complete.
In previous years, one out of every six households received a much longer form that asked questions on socioeconomic status and other areas. Now, Golden said, that information will be obtained on a rolling basis through the American Communities Survey, which is mailed to 3 million households each year.
“We live with the data for 10 years,” right or wrong, Golden said.
In the 2000 Census, about 70 percent of all households mailed in their census forms with accurate information before the April 1 deadline. The other 30 percent required follow up to either correct mistakes or get people to answer the questionnaire.
Accuracy is important not only because the census is used to allocate $400 billion worth of federal funds, but because for each additional 1 percent of households that mail in an accurate form before the deadline, the government saves about $89 million, Golden said.
The Census Bureau needs to follow up with each household that does not provide an accurate questionnaire, so if it needs to follow up with 30 percent of households, it will spend around $2.7 billion to do so.
Golden said that some people may not want to fill out their census forms because they are worried that legal issues, such as parking tickets, might catch up with them. But that isn’t the case.
“No one, including the president of the United States, has access to that information,” Golden said. By law, information collected during the census can only be used for statistical purposes, and cannot be shared with law enforcement or any other government agencies. It also cannot be sold.
Golden listed the Northside, along with Garfield, Lincoln-Larimer and Hazelwood as “hard to count” areas, which is determined based on socioeconomic and demographic factors. These areas are where local governments will focus their educational efforts.
The Census Bureau is also making questionnaires available in six languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian. Language guides for an additional 59 languages will be made available.
Local governments were encouraged to act as “trusted messengers” to their constituents. They will provide information and assistance, in addition to encouraging people to complete the census.
The bureau is also looking for places and organizations willing to open up “Be Counted” sites that will disseminate information and provide encouragement.
Local governments will also help recruit census employees. The bureau needs a total of 28,000 people to assist with the Pennsylvania census, including 1,500 from the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County region.
Jobs include office clerks and census takers, who will walk around their own neighborhoods after April 1 to follow up with households that did not mail in a form. Applicants must take a test before they can be hired, and must be available for four days of paid training, either in the day or at night.
The Pittsburgh census office hopes to have 10,000 residents take the required test. As of early February, only about 4,000 had taken it. It’s important to have people from each community working with the bureau, because a resident will know the community and her neighbors and be in a better position to complete the work accurately.
For more information on the 2010 Census, please visit www.2010Census.gov. For more information on census jobs, please visit www.2010CensusJobs.gov.