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Lack of Con-Census

The 2000 U.S. Census aims for greater outreach and accuracy

This article was posted on March 31, 2000.

source/US Census Bureau

The new census aims for greater accuracy in determining the nation's racial composition. (Source/U.S. Census Bureau)

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Can the 2000 census be pulled off smoothly, avoiding the quagmire of criticism that followed the 1990 census? Don't count on it. Tallying the inhabitants of the third most populous country in the world is no small feat, and there are more

In 1990, 35% of American households did not respond to the Bureau's mailing. Census Bureau employees had to be sent out to America's neighborhoods to ascertain the number of people living in those households. The Bureau explained that many of these census delinquents simply could not read their mailings. The number of Americans who do not speak English has grown significantly over the past two decades. Many other Americans, inundated with junk mail, probably lost their census questionnaires in the shuffle. And then there are the homeless, the illiterate, and the people who just plain refuse to participate for one politically inspired reason or another. As a result, the 1990 census missed more than 8.4 million people and counted 4.4 million others twice.

Greater Outreach

Steps are being taken to curb these factors in 2000. Questionnaires will be available in English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tagalog (which is spoken in the Philippines) in order to generate a higher response level from the immigrant population. The Census Bureau also plans to tap into the nation's passion for technology. People who receive the standard short form, which consists of just seven questions, will be able to fill it out online rather than having to mail it back. Online filing will be more convenient for many citizens and should help streamline the counting process for the Bureau by reducing the amount of time required for data entry.

The enormity of the Census Bureau's efforts is astounding. Some 860,000 temporary workers are being hired to complete the task. Total cost estimates have climbed to a mind-blowing $6 billion. On top of the work involved in organizing the count, the Bureau has been running an unprecedented publicity campaign to increase awareness about the census.

Accuracy Matters

So why the urgency? Census data is used in distributing funding for education, highways, health care, disaster relief, Social Security, and other needs in the nation's communities. It also helps determine where district lines should be drawn within state boundaries. Information about the racial and ethnic composition of the nation makes it easier for the government to examine equal employment opportunity policies and assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks. With such important political and social decisions riding on the census, it is easy to see why it had better be as accurate as possible.

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