The federal government is partnering with the city of Cleveland and numerous community groups to improve the accuracy of the 2010 U.S. census.
Historically, census workers have had difficulty getting accurate population counts in urban areas such as Cleveland, said Betty J. Halliburton, a partnership specialist with the Census Bureau in Cleveland. That creates problems because the federal government distributes more than $400 billion annually based on census results. That money is used for roads, schools, programs for senior citizens and minorities, and various building projects. In addition, the number of congressional seats in each state is determined using census figures.
Cleveland’s Planning Commission, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League are among local groups working to help the U.S. Census Bureau tear down barriers hindering an accurate census count in northeast Ohio.
“There are some folks who don’t necessarily want to be counted, for whatever reasons,” Halliburton said. “There are some folks who are low-income, sometimes some who are dealing with language barriers. We have some residents who may be homeless, who are in transition. We have some who are not here legally.”
The U.S. Census Bureau needs all of those people to respond to questionnaires that were mailed out in March, she said.
Richard Romero, a prominent leader in the Latino community in northeast Ohio, is working with the U.S. Census Bureau to encourage participation among Spanish-speaking residents.
“It’s a cultural thing,” Romero said of the reluctance by some in the Hispanic community to participate in the census. “The community tends to be very private about their family matters.”
But more people will participate if they understand how it impacts the community and their families, Romero said.
“That’s why it needs to be done in their language by people who they have faith in — like religious leaders, community leaders.”
Those are the types of partnerships Romero is charged with establishing in northeast Ohio.
in a 2001 report to Congress, the U.S. Census Monitoring Board estimated that the 2000 census undercount for Hispanics was 2.85 percent and 2.17 percent for blacks, as compared to a 0.67 percent undercount for whites.
Cleveland’s Planning Commission has launched a citywide campaign to get an accurate census count, said Planning Director Robert Brown. The city formed what it has dubbed the Complete Count Committee, which consists of 60 members representing different government agencies and community organizations. Block club leaders, neighborhood residents, city council members, ministers and others are becoming messengers for the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We’re trying to get fliers and information out and deputize city residents to get the message out that there is nothing to fear from the census,” Brown said.
It’s hard to pinpoint the extent of the undercount problem in Cleveland, Brown said. However, he estimated the census in 2000 might have undercounted Cleveland’s population by about 20,000, based on a later study by Washington-based Social Compact, Inc.
“We estimate that if 20,000 people are missed in the census now, that over 10 years, that could cost the city up to $240 million in federal funding,” Brown said. “So, to the extent that thousands or tens of thousands of people are missed, it means all kinds of programs — everything from Community Development Block Grants to education programs and lots of other programs — bring less money into the city.”
The city is asking for volunteers to encourage residents to return the forms. Information on volunteering is available on the city’s Web site at http://planning.city.cleveland.oh.us/census2010/index.php or by calling 216-664-2210.
The NAACP in Cleveland is passing out U.S. Census Bureau literature and featuring bureau spokesmen on its weekly cable television show in an effort to encourage participation by area residents. In addition, the NAACP’s office is serving as a question and answer center, where residents can call in with questions about the upcoming census.
“I’ve got to tell you, there are a lot of people who don’t trust big government and they don’t want to share information,” said Stanley Miller, executive director of the NAACP’s Cleveland branch. “So, part of what we’ve done is try to convince people that their information will be kept confidential.
“We just want to help because we know if we accurately count the number of people in our community, we’ll get the accurate amount of services and funds that are due our community,” he said.
The Cleveland NAACP and the Urban League in neighboring Lorain County are among the community groups that also act as recruiters, helping locate local residents who want to work as enumerators for the U.S. Census Bureau. They will visit homes that fail to return the census form.
The form, which needs to be returned in April, will consist of 10 questions and can be completed in 10 minutes, said the U.S. Census Bureau’s Betty Halliburton.
The Census Bureau is making the form available in seven languages and is establishing “Be Counted Sites” in libraries and some schools where residents that the U.S. Census Bureau has trouble locating can pick up a questionnaire, Halliburton said.