By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
For some people, the words “U.S. census survey” conjure up Big Brother images. Many wonder, why is the government asking me these questions? Why are they trying to track me?
There is a common mistrust of the census among Asian Americans, as it is a racial group that is predominately made of immigrants. More often than not, immigrants in the U.S. have relocated in a new country because their lives in their former homes were under duress — either from war, or from lack of opportunities to provide for a family.
Immigrants tend to carry over their skepticism of government to their adopted countries. This is why the upcoming U.S. Census Bureau will be concentrating much of their efforts for the 2010 census in immigrant communities. The census does its counts every 10 years. The last was in 2000.
The purpose of the census is to record the number of representatives for each state. Every 10 years, they conduct a population count.
The efforts of the census are extensive. It has an address list that they maintain through the decade in between counts. It updates that list with U.S. post office’s list and other lists from the local government.
In 2009, the census will go out and verify that the list is as complete as possible. Then in 2010, using those addresses, forms will be mailed out. In some places without house numbers or addresses, they hand deliver it.
In late May 2010, census employees will actually go door to door to households that didn’t mail back their completed form. There’s also a separate operation for nontraditional places. For people who may not have a home, there is service-based numeration. Census employees go to soup kitchens and shelters to do the count.
The census serves as a statistical tool for funding purposes. “It’s really important for the community,” said regional director of the Seattle region, Ralph Lee. “The government needs to get an accurate and complete census because it’s used for the distribution of funds. It distributes about $300 billion of funds each year.”
For instance, a large ethnic community would be allotted more funding for their programs than a community with smaller numbers.
“We really need to partner with new immigrant communities,” Lee said. “To let them know that the census is safe and that we won’t share the info. That’s why we have a partnership effort. Our partnership program really targets the areas where there may be concerns about the census, what we call our ‘undercounted,’ that may have a greater risk of being missed.”
As for the fear of Big Brother, Lee strives to eliminate that myth.
“One thing that we stress in the census is that it is confidential,” he said. “We don’t share our info with other agencies or other government and state entities. We take that really seriously. All your answers are safe.”
Lee also wants to convey how simple the census will be for 2010. “For this census it’s a short form census only. We’re just asking 10 questions,” he said. “Just 10 basic questions.”
The census is mandated by the Constitution to count everyone. That does include non-citizens and undocumented citizens, something that is alarming to many in the Asian community.
But there is no need to worry and be fearful. “We make no distinction,” Lee said. “We don’t ask if you’re a U.S. citizen.”
What are the questions they do ask?
They ask for your race and whether it’s Hispanic in origin, your age, your relationship to the primary person in household, whether you own or rent a house and other non-intrusive questions. They don’t even ask for income data. ♦
In this month, the census has opened three offices in Washington state — Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane. They are interested in hiring a field staff for 2009. There is a toll-free recruiting number if interested: 877-471-5432. For more information about the U.S. Census Bureau, visit www.census.gov/rosea.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.