WASHINGTON (NNPA) - For years there have been charges that African Americans are under-represented in the U. S. Census counts conducted once every decade.
''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 Black, says although the last Census in 2000 had an under-count of less than one-half percent, he believes masses of people have gone uncounted in the past because of a lack of returned 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, to begin April 1, 2010, will involve a full court press – and vast strategies -- to assure the maximum number of hard-to-count individuals are counted.
''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. And for a long time racial minority groups have shied away from giving the government the information they needed to get a more accurate count of the country's population by not responding to mailed 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 Blacks 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 as 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 30 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. This is the most expensive count ever, which Jackson says underscores the crucial purpose of the count.
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. The count also determines how many congressional representatives states get.
The data gathered in the Census also helps to shape policy decisions for the rest of the decade. It will also measure just how much the U. S., as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. island areas, have changed since 2000 and help determine responses to those changes.
Because of the vast undertaking, Census takers will use hand-held computers, GPS systems and mapping technology instead of paper maps. Such devices will ensure accuracy and improve the efficiency of the national population count.
The Census Bureau will also partner with national grassroots organizations that have specific missions to reach out and ensure that ''hard-to-reach'' groups are represented.
The Black Leadership Forum, African American Women's Clergy Association; and the National Coalition on Black Participation are some of the more than 250 partner organizations that have signed on. These groups will serve in advisory rolls for potential issues and barriers that may keep citizens from participating such as immigration and displacement from hurricanes and other disasters. They will also serve as watchdogs to assure that racial minority groups are accurately represented in order to get funding and congressional representation.
Meanwhile, the count is set to begin 11 months from now.
''If we feel that you may have a discrepancy with your questionnaire we'll call you back',' Jackson said. ''We may call eight million households out of 145 million.''