Monday, January 21, 2019
Text Size

Site Search powered by Ajax

Make Yourself Count

Census results are crucial to many local planning decisions -- such as neighborhood improvements, emergency preparedness and disaster recovery.


WASHINGTON -- My grandmother, Big Mama, was fearful of divulging much if any of her personal information to the government.

And she had plenty of reasons. A granddaughter of slaves, she was reluctant to cooperate with a government that once permitted the wretched condition of human bondage.

It's Big Mama I think about when I hear Commerce Secretary Gary Locke plead with people to send back the Census 2010 forms that will be mailed next March to more than 130 million households -- not only in all 50 states and the District of Columbia but Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Every 10 years, the Census Bureau is required by the Constitution to count all of the people living in the United States.

I'm not sure, but I'm willing to bet that when the federal government sent census forms to Big Mama, she tossed them in the trash. Heck, she wouldn't even fill out my c ollege financial aid applications for fear the government would use the information to somehow take her house.

I understand that many people, like Big Mama, don't trust the federal government. I'm also aware it is illegal for the Census Bureau to share personal information with any other government agency, including law enforcement.

But for those who are still inclined to ignore the decennial count for whatever personal reason or history or preposterous political agenda (yes, I'm talking to you, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has threatened that she won't completely fill out her census form) -- I want to appeal to your pocketbook.

Once counted, the Census 2010 data will determine how more than $400 billion a year in federal funding is allocated. How much money your community gets is in your hands. The census is about power, but equally important, it's about money.

"At a time when states are struggling, $400 billion is very critical to providing the services that people want whether its for senior services, public health or police and fire," Locke said during an interview. "It's in people's own economic self-interest to maximize the funds coming to their communities."

There's a lot of focus on the political impact of Census 2010. After all, the count will determine how many congressional representatives each state will have. The information is used to draw legislative districts.

"That's especially important because in 2011, many states will be redistricting, and according to private analysts, as many as six states are on the cusp of gaining a congressional seat," Locke said during a speech to journalists attending the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Tampa in early August.

Census results are also crucial to many local planning decisions -- such as neighborhood improvements, emergency preparedness and disaster recovery, Locke said.

With so many people disillusioned with the political process, the Census Bureau may have a better chance of boosting responses by playing up the economics of Census 2010.

When you don't return the form, someone has to be sent out to count you and the people living in your home. And that effort is costly. For each 1 percent increase in the response rate, the bureau, a part of the Commerce Department, saves about $90 million. During the last count in 2000, the response rate improved to 67 percent. It had been declining for three decades.

"I'm hoping more people will mail in their census form than ever before," Locke said.

I hope so too. We need every penny saved, considering the bulging deficit the government is racking up.

There's another reason to pay attention to this count, especially if you are among the millions who are unemployed. Over the next year, the Census Bureau will be one of the largest employers in the United States, Locke said.

"We plan to hire almost 1.2 million people through the end of next year at a competitive hourly wage," he said. "In an economy as difficult as this one, these jobs can serve as a vital bridge for workers until they can find something more permanent."

For a person going door-to-door to collect census data, the hourly wage will range from $10 to $25 depending on location, according to census spokesman Stephen L. Buckner.

Most recruiting will start in mid- to late-November, with a lot of hiring taking place in the spring of 2010.

To find out about the available jobs, check the 2010 Census Jobs Web site at

Ironically, the more people who don't fill out their forms, the more jobs there will be. But it's not a great use of taxpayer dollars and certainly not a long-term employment opportunity. The census jobs last on average only six to eight weeks.

For the first time, the Census Bureau will be sending out bilingual forms to about 13 million Spanish-English households. The bilingual questionnaires will be sent to neighborhoods with high concentrations of households that speak Spanish at home, Buckner said. These areas were identified using previous census data and current information produced from the American Community Survey. Forms will also be available by request in Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Russian.

This year the census form has just 10 questions and should take less than 10 minutes to answer, Locke said.

Ten minutes and you can help ensure your community isn't shortchanged in either congressional representation or federal dollars.
Researcher, Charity Brown, contributed to this article.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her e-mail address is singletarym(at) Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

Mission Statement

The mission of EHF is to empower the Ethiopian American community through education, advocacy, service and the development of community-based resources; to build a new social, economic and political community in North America; and to promote the culture and history of Ethiopia.

Login Form