Sunday, November 28, 1999

Everyone counts in census

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The countdown to the big count has begun. The 2000 Census will start this March with the largest mass mailing in history, glide through early summer with census workers visiting the households that don't return the forms, then end Dec. 31 when the counts are delivered to President Clinton.

  March 2000: The mailings begin. An advance letter — a postcard stating that the census form is on its way — will be mailed March 6-8. The questionnaires will be mailed March 13-15. A reminder card will go out March 20-22.
  March 27-29: Count of the homeless at shelters, soup kitchens, or outdoor locations.
  March 31: Count of people living at campgrounds, racetracks, carnivals, marinas, etc.
  April 1, 2000: All questions on census forms apply to the status of a household on this date.
  April 2000: Count of people living in group quarters, including nursing homes, college dorms, convents, prisons, mental institutions, etc.
  April through July: Census workers begin visiting housing units that did not return a questionnaire.
  Dec. 31, 2000: Counts delivered to President Clinton.
  April 1, 2001: All states receive redistricting counts.
        Census takers plan to count every man, woman and child in the country — whether they live in stately mansions, crowded apartments, prison cells or cardboard boxes on the street.

        Information gathered will be used for a decade by government, businesses, nonprofit organizations and others to make decisions that will touch and shape every aspect of the Tristate and the rest of the nation.

        “It's kind of like the blood that flows throughout the entire body,” said Dwight Dean, a regional director for the Census Bureau.

        The first census was taken in 1790 and counted 3.9 million Americans, asking each person only six questions.

        Its original purpose was apportionment of seats in Congress, and the census still is used for that. But the information written on census forms today is used for much more, including:

        Distributing more than $180 billion in federal funds — and even more from state governments — every year for things such as highways, hospitals, nursing homes, and hundreds of social programs.

        Drawing federal, state and local legislative districts, along with school district boundaries.

        Forecasting transportation needs and planning for public transportation.

        Marketing of products by businesses.

        Predicting housing needs.

        And that only scratches the surface.

        The bottom line is that the count adds up to big money for local governments, and that translates into real services for citizens.

  More than $180 billion in federal funds awarded every year based on census information.
  Mailings to more than 119 million households in United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. islands.
  More than 285,000 census jobs at peak.
  More than 79 million questionnaires returned within a two-week period.
  About 9 million blocks covered by census workers.
  $102 million spent on advertising to make people aware of the coming census.
        It is estimated that each person counted equals $430 in federal and state dollars a year coming into Cincinnati, according to Dev Saggar, an economist in the city's Planning Department.

        Mr. Saggar said that amount varies slightly from community to community, depending upon the area's population and needs.

        “Whether the figures are right or wrong, the government accepts them,” Mr. Saggar said. “And that impacts our quality of life.

        “Government is about planning to improve the quality of life for its citizens,” he said. “The tools for that planning come from the Census Bureau.”

        In order to get the word out on the census, the bureau has been working for the past three years with all levels of local and state governments. As the count comes closer that effort is expanding to include all aspects of society, from businesses and churches to nonprofits and schools.

Some errors occur
        Nothing much has changed in Jacksonburg since the 1990 Census was taken.

        Known as the smallest incorporated village in Ohio, this northern Butler County community suffered a severe undercount 10 years ago.

        Instead of the 65 residents that live within Jacksonburg's boundaries, the census counted 14. That led to a protest — and a recount — which finally tallied the correct number.

        That experience has soured Betty McGuire a little on the coming census.

        Ms. McGuire has worked for more than 30 years at Marcum's Carry Out, a former stage coach stop in the 1800s that is now one of two stores in town.

        If the Census Bureau can't get the number right for a little place like Jacksonburg, she said, how will it ever come close in the big cities?

        “There aren't any new houses around here, and there aren't any new businesses,” Ms. Marcum said. “Although a couple people have died. And I can't think of any new babies that were born. I guess I will fill (a form) out, if I get one.”

        She will get one.

        Criticism has come hand-in-hand with each census. Thomas Jefferson wrote the official count of the 1790 census in black ink, and his estimate of the actual number — more than 4 million people — in red.

        During the last census, Cincinnati claimed that more than 12,000 people were not counted, while New York City said more than a million people were left out.

        Detroit sued the Census Bureau because the official count showed its population had dropped to under a million.

        Those disputes were resolved because cities were allowed to document segments of the community missed in the count. That process is different this time around.

        Instead of changing the numbers after the count, the Census Bureau is working with communities before the forms are mailed to make sure addresses are complete.

        Cynthia King, a Census Bureau team leader for southwest Ohio, said there won't be time to adjust the numbers after next year's count. So all the work in making sure each house gets a form has to be done before the mailings, she said.

        That's a particular challenge in places like Liberty Township.

        Nell Kilpatrick, township administrator, said rapid growth in her community makes verifying addresses a difficult job.

        “We have new streets practically every week,” Ms. Kilpatrick said. “We did a lot of work with the census maps earlier this year, and we'll do it again in January to make sure the maps reflect the very latest information we have.”

        Mr. Dean, of the Census Bureau, said an accurate count is impossible without this preliminary work.

        In Northern Kentucky, groups such as the chamber of commerce and Rotary Club also are getting involved.

        Gary Toebben, president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said business will be an important link in getting an accurate count.

        “We'll make every effort to encourage employers to put out information and spread the word about the importance of the census,” Mr. Toebben said. “It's critical that everyone in our community participate.” Once municipalities have verified the census maps are accurate, the bureau will start mailing out forms. Each household in America will receive one of two forms:

        A short form questionnaire will be mailed to most homes and will ask seven subjects of each person living in the household: name, sex, age, relationship, Hispanic origin, race and whether the home is owned or rented.

        This form — the shortest short form in 180 years — takes about 10 minutes to complete.

        A long-form questionnaire will be mailed to every sixth household and will have questions regarding 34 subjects, including income, education, ancestry, employment and disability.

        This form takes approximately 30 minutes to fill out and is a scientific sampling, which is then used for planning a wide range of government programs.

Discouraging to some
        Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the Census Bureau could not use scientific sampling for reapportionment in Congress, sampling is allowed for all other census functions.

        The information asked on these forms worries Jean Neagle of Anderson Township.

        Mrs. Neagle completed the form in 1990 with her husband and mailed it back right away. Then a census worker came to their home and asked why they hadn't filled out the form.

        That's discouraging, she said, but she'll probably fill the form out next year when it comes. Mrs. Neagle said she doesn't know why they ask so many questions.

        “I just feel there's too much Big Brother watching,” Mrs. Neagle said. “And it's discouraging when you do your civic duty and they still come around to your house.

        “It makes you wonder why you spent the time filling out the form in the first place.”

        Census Bureau officials say some mistakes will be made, but added the purpose of the form has nothing to do with Big Brother watching citizens.

        All information on census forms is confidential, and that is ensured by the U.S. Constitution. The forms do not ask for Social Security numbers, so there is no way to cross reference the information to individual names, and the information can't be shared with any other governmental agency for 72 years.

        The Census Bureau's Mr. Dean said mistrust of the government is the biggest hurdle his office has to overcome.

        “There used to be an accepted willingness to comply with government,” Mr. Dean said. “Those days are gone.

        “But people need to understand that it is against the law for us to give census information to any other governmental agency. So if there are illegal aliens living in a home, that information isn't going to be used against them.”

Old survey forms serve as snapshots of country

Concert industry learned from Who tragedy
Concert goers still feel the dangers today
Luken just wants to get things done
Q & A with Charlie Luken
The mayor says 'adios'
Findlay Market's fight to the finish
Findlay Market milestones
Curtain rises on a new CCM
The six phases of renovation
CCM opening events
Growing prominence marks school's history
Q & A with architect, dean
Be part of group photos of your community
Bengals could pull Bedinghaus down with them
- Everyone counts in census
Tiny Indiana town never saw endowment coming
Book looks at N.Ky. past, progress
Bradley vs. Gore sparks father vs.son
Commandments gain momentum across Kentucky
Disabled woman does 2 marathons
Fire department looks to residents for help
Helping knows no language barrier
Rumpke lights up for holidays
State can't withhold kids' food stamps to punish mom
Teen has passion for bagpipes
Tobacco prices concern farmers
Wright stuff for Ohio seal?
Lucas: When in doubt, be scary