Stand up and be counted
Census Bureau sets up downtown office to coordinate 2010 tally
The U.S. Census Bureau launched a national road tour and media campaign Monday in an effort to inform people about the 2010 Census, which will solicit information from every residence in America this March.
The campaign will hit about 800 major events across the country, including the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four. But much of the nitty gritty work is on the local level — as in Mountain View, where city and community workers are busy with their own outreach efforts.
"It's important, it's easy and it's safe," said Kimberly Thomas, assistant to the city manager. "Those are really crucial messages to get out to ensure that the community knows how simple this is."
"This data provides support for a variety of grant programs that we apply for, that schools apply for, that nonprofits apply for," she said.
Thomas added that this year the census consists of 10 questions, and is designed to be simpler than questionnaires from past decades. Increasing the response rate is "one of our key goals at the city," she said. In 2000, Mountain View had a 72 percent response rate, which was higher than both the national and California averages of 62 and 70 percent, respectively.
"The numbers will be relevant for the next 10 years," said Pnina Levermore, a specialist with the Census Bureau who is helping lead efforts at the bureau's newly established local office at 200 W. Evelyn St.
Levermore said the federal government distributes about $400 billion per year — or $4 trillion over the 10-year period — based on census data.
According to a 2007 Brookings Institution study, cities receive $1,145 per person per year in federal funding. If a family of four isn't counted in Mountain View, that could cost the city upwards of $50,000 over the next 10 years.
Thomas said the city is particularly interested in reaching the "hard-to-count" populations, those who "might feel the census is not something they'd like to fill out." Such groups can include new citizens, non-English speakers, renters, homeless, or people who have a fear of government.
"We are intent on getting as close to 100 percent (participation) as possible," Levermore said, but she acknowledged that census workers are expecting about 25 percent of surveys to be unreturned as of the April 1 deadline. Field staffers plan to make as many as six visits to every residence that does not return the survey.
Census staffers take an oath of confidentiality, Levermore said, so individuals' private information is safe. Government workers who break the oath may face a $250,000 fine, five years in prison, or both.
Currently there are about 45 people working at the Evelyn Street office, though office manager James Kamenelis said that number will grow by May. Most will be field workers, who are paid $22 per hour.
A goal of the office is to hire workers from local communities, Kamenelis said, adding that they plan to hire between 40 and 60 people from the city of Mountain View.
"The whole outreach effort is to work with trusted messengers," Levermore said, noting that all census workers will bear an official badge and carry a special bag. Anyone asking for Social Security numbers or private information door to door is not from the census, she said.
The questionnaire itself will be available in English, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Russian, though Levermore said that nationally census staffers speak over 90 languages, and field organizers will help connect people with a staff member who can assist them, even if it's over the phone.
"We are really making every effort," she said.
Those interested in working for the local census office may call (866) 861-2010. For more information visit www.2010.census.gov, or look for the U.S. Census on Facebook or YouTube.
E-mail Kelsey Mesher at email@example.com