Census is a matter of dollars and cents

"If year 2000 census takers miss as many people living in Island County as they did in 1990, the undercount could cost local schools and city and county agencies as much as $10 million dollars over the next decade.So this time around, local Census officials are telling publicly funded agencies that it is their job to encourage the people they represent to mail back their completed Census forms when they arrive this April. Making the last stop on a Census lecturing tour on Whidbey Island Wednesday, Mount Vernon Census staffer Ellen Abellera told Langley's city council members that huge declines in the number of people responding to United States Census queries over the past three decades has affected not only state and federal funding, but may have shorted some Western Washington residents' proper representation in the U.S. Congress and the Washington State Legislature. Eighty-five percent of all Americans responded to mailed Census questionnaires in 1970, she said. By 1980, that number dropped to 75 percent; by 1990, only 65 percent responded.This year, Abellera said, the Census Bureau expects to receive word back from just 61 percent of America's citizens. Locally, undercounted populations could conceivably cost Western Washington residents an extra legislative district, not to mention school funding, and extra dollars for roads, parks, law enforcement, and other services.Elected officials, such as those serving on the Langley City Council, can help reverse this trend.You are the key leaders in this community. You can spread the word just by talking to people, Abellera said.Approximately 2.2 percent of Island County's people were not counted in the 1990 Census total of 60,195. Contributing to this was a 2.6 percent undercount in Langley and a 3.5 percent undercount in Oak Harbor. This year, the Census Bureau will send officials door-to-door with questionnaires, trying to make up for the statistical shortfall by querying people who did not mail their Census questionaires back to the bureau.Most elusive when counting population, Abellera said, are minorities, children, and the homeless.Freeland's Jim Freeman may be one of the people who do the counting. He answered a mass mailing last month in which the Census Bureau put out a call for new employees. This week he took the test that will determine whether he is hired or not. If he is, he will be on a side of the Census process he is not used. to. In 1980, Freeman was one of the one in 10 Americans surveyed in person by a Census employee.I was single, living in Bend, Ore. in a cabin with a basset hound and I was on the radio, Freeman said.Freeman, an emcee and comedian, recorded the interview and made up answers to most of the questions. Curiosity drew him to become the person who has to sort through interviews like the one he gave 20 years ago.I thought 'Wow, I could be on the other side, Freeman said.In this year's Census, Census questionnaires will be mailed to every citizen the bureau can find. Most will receive a short questionnaire estimated to take 10 minutes to complete. One in six citizens will receive a longer form containing detailed questions that will allow the bureau to statistically analyze how the average American lives.The questionnaires will start hitting mailboxes on April 1."

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