Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - April 16, 2010

The big count

Census crews will continue to gather data in the weeks, months ahead

by Emily West

Time to return America's 23rd Census form is ticking away, with the countdown clocks ending at midnight Saturday. Despite the deadlines, local Census workers said they expect to keep working for several weeks, if not months, until the region has been properly represented in the big count.

Hype surrounding the Census started early, most notably with TV commercials during the Super Bowl. The number 10 is at the heart of the message: 10 questions in 10 minutes in the decade tradition taking place in 2010. It's said to be one of the simplest forms in several decades.

Many people in Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley got that message. As of press time in Alameda County, the return rate was at 65 percent with 74 percent of Pleasanton residents participating.

Karen Koistinen, manager of the Pleasanton Census office, which covers an area from Piedmont to Livermore, said she is pleased with both rates.

"It's a success," she said. "We definitely received our estimated mail-in rates."

Pleasanton is just short of its 2000 Census return rate, which came in at 78 percent.

Nearby Contra Costa County's rate of return is at 68 percent and Santa Clara County is at 69 percent. San Francisco County stands at 62 percent.

The state in the lead as of Wednesday was Wisconsin with a rate of 77 percent, closely followed by neighboring states Minnesota with 75 percent and Iowa with 74 percent.

Census advertising has focused on the fact that updated figures will be used for federal funding allocations instead of emphasizing the goal of proper districting and government representation.

"The two are tied together," Koistinen said. "It's absolutely all measured and allocated by population count. Large funds are apportioned to communities based on population, and congressional seats are also based on population."

The more than $400 billion in federal funding that is spread throughout the nation can be seen at the local level for things like school lunch programs, she added.

For those in the area who did not mail back their forms, Koistinen said they are planning to send out Census Takers door-to-door in May.

"We have different areas within the office assigned to different groups of people," she said. "We make certain there are plans to visit the neighborhoods."

The workers will repeat their visits if people are not home.

When a Census Taker comes to the door, residents should expect to be asked the same questions that are on the form, she added.

The main reason why people don't return Census forms, Koistinen said, is because they are busy or have concerns over privacy.

"We're trying to get the word out about the confidentiality," she said. "It will not be made public for 72 years. And when the information is made public, it's very general. There's nothing specifically to do with the neighborhood, let alone specific houses on the street."

Another potential roadblock to getting higher return rates would be reaching the non-English speaking populations. There are efforts to reach those groups, she said, to provide help and hire people in those neighborhoods.

Another wallet-focused message being sent by the Census Bureau is the extra cost to taxpayers for those who don't mail back a completed form. Door-to-door Census Takers in the area are paid $22 an hour. According to information released April 1, the Census Bureau estimates that for each percentage point increase in the 2010 Census mail-back response rate, $85 million of taxpayer money is saved by not having to go door to door to count non-responding households. They also say a mailed-back form costs 42 cents, whereas the in-person response costs about $57.

The team is expected to remain in its Pleasanton office, located off Koll Center Parkway, until the end of September, if all goes according to schedule.

"We will be working on non-response mail follow-up until July," Koistinen said. "We'll take our time to do the most thorough job possible."

By the number

* 134 million -- The estimated number of housing units the Census Bureau contacts, either by mail or in person, to conduct the 2010 Census.

* 72 percent -- The final mail participation rate in the 2000 Census. As of press time, the national 2010 rate stands at 66 percent.

* 3 -- The number of NASCAR Spring Cup races in which the 2010 Census-sponsored No. 16 Ford Fusion, with driver Greg Biffle, competed.

* 11.6 million pounds -- The collective weight of the paper the questionnaires were printed on. It also required 295,259 pounds of ink. Printed forms would fill 425 tractor-trailers, and would circle the globe three times, if stretched end to end.

* 6 -- The number of languages that the questionnaires were available in: English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese.

* 63 -- The number of "It's Easy" tutorial videos found on the Census website (www.census2010.gov).

* 3.8 million -- The total number of people recruited for 2010 Census operations during fiscal years 2009 and 2010 (as of March 1).

* 133 million -- The cost of the national advertising campaign to boost participation rates in the 2010 Census.

* 0 -- The number of organizations with which the Census Bureau shares confidential information. Title 13 of the U.S. Code prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing confidential information with other government agencies, immigration authorities, law enforcement or any other organization. Employees take a lifetime oath swearing to keep the information confidential; penalties for violations include up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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