2010 Census Seeks Partners to Get Americans Counted

Denise Rolark-Barnes | 3/30/2009, 3:08 p.m.

The decades-old challenge of counting the U.S. population will be met by more than 1,000 national and local organizations gearing up for the U.S. 2010 Census. As partners, these groups will tailor messages to their members, particularly the underserved and hard to reach populations that being counted is empowering.

Several hundred representatives from national and local, community and faith-based organizations, media, businesses and schools met in D.C. earlier this week for an exclusive briefing hosted by the Census Bureau. In addition to hearing discussions about the challenges and successes of past Census counts, the bureau launched its appeal to broaden its partnership base with groups that will raise awareness and encourage participation in the 2010 Census.

Since 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau has engaged groups representing African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians to put a familiar face to the massive number of heads to be counted. The challenge has been an enormous task because vast numbers of Americans have historically avoided the count.

€Our readers have to get beyond fear,€ said Karen Love, of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a trade association of more than 160 Black-owned newspapers across the country. As a member of the media panel representing a diverse group of newspaper, radio, television and public relations firms, Love said a lot of work will need to be done to dispel the myths built around the Census.
€For years, the Native American community held on to its distrust of the government,€ explained Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director, National Congress of American Indians. €At the turn of the century, the government census taker determined whether Native Americans were civilized or uncivilized Americans,€ Pata said, which in turn has lead to a massive undercount of the country€s tribal communities.

In 2000, when the Census partnered with Native American tribal leaders, it helped to engage more members on the ground. €Enumerators make the difference,€ she said. €They are the people on the ground and the ones who the community knows and trusts.€

Hillary Shelton, Washington Bureau Chief of the NAACP, announced the 100-year old organizations partnership plans to engage its 2,200 member units across the country, including college campuses and in prisons, to assure that African Americans are counted.

€Most people get nervous when the government comes to collect information,€ Shelton said. €Our objective is to help the Census Bureau get past these obstacles.€

Richard Lee Snow, Executive Director, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, signs on as a partner for the 2010 Census. Photo by Denise Rolark-Barnes
Since 1790, a census has been conducted to count every person residing in the United States every 10 years. The count is constitutionally mandated and is used to determine each state€s Congressional representation. In addition, federal funding for state and local programs is determined by the census. By March 2010, every U.S. household will receive a questionnaire and in cases where there has been no response, a census representative will call or visit.

According to Census Bureau officials, the 2010 Census will be different in one way. In past years, some households completed a short form while others received a long form. In 2010, a short-form only census will be used to count all residents living in the United States, as well as ask for name, sex, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, relationship and housing tenure €" taking just minutes to complete.

Wade Henderson, of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, compared the grassroots outreach civil rights organizations are using to prepare hard to reach communities for the Digital Television Transmission conversion to be completed in June, is a protocol that will be applied to prepare communities for the census.

The challenge he sees will be reaching those Americans who have been affected by the nation€s financial crisis. €The economy has caused a high level of mobility and instability,€ Henderson said. €With high unemployment and foreclosures, the census will have to be more aware of people now living in tent cities and others who have been displaced causing major population shifts.€