Columns » Small Talk

Laurie Walters

Assistant Manager, Field Operations Census 2000



If you haven't received it by now, you'll get your form by the end of the week. April 1 marks the date of the 2000 census, the count of every man, woman and child living in the United States. Mandated by the Constitution and executed every decade, the census was designed to enable a fledgling country to understand who it was. While we grow ever larger, the census is becoming more and more important.

What's the point of the census? Down through the years the census has been used for a whole bunch of things. Local governments use it to determine services, businesses use it to determine where they're going to [open] new businesses ... but one of the biggest things that impacts the people is that a lot of the funds that come out of Washington are given back to communities based on the number of people who live there, or the types [of people]. Certain groups often get block grants. So if we can let the government know exactly who we all are here, we'll get our fair share of the pie.

Seems like the people who need those government services the most might be the people who won't fill out the form. For that very reason, the advertising campaign was designed to hit some of these special groups. For instance, there is a big push to get the homeless counted in some real sense, so we've been going to shelters and soup kitchens and places that we can talk to these folks. A lot of them don't have any address, and most of our census count is done based on where a person lives. There's also a big emphasis on counting certain groups that we feel we've had large undercounts in, especially now with such a great number of folks coming into our country.

Who has been undercounted? One of the biggest ones that people don't think about is children. For some reason, when folks fill out a form they don't consider the children as important as the adults. They are, because a lot of these programs are targeted right at the children, school funding being the largest. Federal school funding is based on the number of students we have.

Are you afraid that people won't respond out of fear of deportation, arrest, etc.? That's one of our special worries now, because we know there are a lot of folks who have come across the border in recent years. I know they're terrified. It's a tough message to get across to these folks that we really will protect them. We need to know that they're here, so we can get enough social services for them.

So the census is completely confidential. You can tell us whatever it is that you need to tell us, because it won't go to anybody other than sworn census employees. It will be gathered as statistical totals that would never identify you in way. That means that the FBI, the CIA, the INS, the president, any local agency, cannot get a hold of that information in any way that could harm anybody. Back in 1980, somebody who worked for the census bureau here was let go because he wasn't doing a good job. He got mad and went to the FBI saying, "Hey, these people are lying. They're not putting the truth down on these questionnaires." So the FBI marched on our office and tried to confiscate questionnaires. They took it all the way to the Supreme Court, but they were never allowed to have that information.

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