By Rep. Michael Hanley
House Democratic Leader
Wondering whether you make a difference? Well, believe me, when it comes to the census, you do!
Census 2000 must reach every person living in the United States. And that really means everyone, whether they live in downtown Detroit or a remote outpost in Alaska; whether or not they have a home; and whether or not they want to be counted.
This is a massive undertaking, to say the least, but it is a very intense and focused one. In March of 2000, each household in the U.S. will receive a Census 2000 questionnaire. The form will be in English unless the respondent requests one in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, or Korean. Information on how to obtain the questionnaire in these languages will be provided in a letter that goes out in advance of the census. (Language guides in about 49 languages also will be available to help people answer the census. To receive a language guide, call the toll-free telephone number printed on the census questionnaire.)
A few days later, the questionnaire will arrive in the mail, followed a few weeks later by a postcard thanking those who have returned their form.
Census workers will deliver the remaining questionnaires to remote areas and
nursing homes, college dorms, military facilities, shelters for people without
housing, camps for migrant and seasonal farm workers and other places that
require special treatment. While the census form is to be returned by mail,
census workers will contact 300,000 households across America - as part
of a "quality check" - and compare information they obtain against the census results.
As required by federal law, the Secretary of Commerce will deliver state population counts to the president within nine months of Census Day (Dec. 31, 2000). These counts will be used to reapportion the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Census Bureau must also provide population counts to the states, which use these tabulations to redraw the boundaries of the congressional, state and local legislative districts.
Beyond determining government representation, census data is used to advocate for causes, research markets, target advertising, locate pools of skilled workers, prevent diseases, even rescue disaster victims. When Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992, for example, census information aided the rescue effort by providing relief workers with estimates of the number of people missing in each block, as well as detailed maps of whole neighborhoods that had been obliterated.
Senior citizen groups often draw on statistics from the census to support their desire for community centers. Nonprofit organizations often use census numbers to estimate the number of potential volunteers in communities across the nation. Census statistics help determine where to build more roads, hospitals and child-care centers.
The numbers also help identify which communities need more federal help for job training, Head Start or the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program.
The information also is needed to plan programs that provide direct aid to schools with children whose native language is not English. The distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in state and federal funds for education, health care, transportation, and other critical programs is based on census numbers. The more complete the participation by diverse groups, the greater the equity in the distribution of these funds.
Afraid that your census answers could get you into trouble? Fear of government reprisal, prosecution, and deportation are some reasons given by individuals who shy away from answering the census, but the Census Bureau is strongly committed to confidentiality. By law, the Census Bureau is prohibited from sharing the information on individuals with any person or organization, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
All Census Bureau employees must take an oath not to divulge respondents' data, violation of which can result in a $5,000 fine and up to five years in jail.
So there you have it. You do count, so make sure you are counted in Census 2000.