Census count to begin in March

Mail-in forms will be used first; then census workers will hit the streets to follow up. Money, a census director says, is a main reason why people should respond to the count.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

In 1790, Thomas Jefferson, then the first U.S. Secretary of State, tasked 650 U.S. marshals to count all American residents in the first U.S. census. It took 18 months for them to tally all 3.9 million citizens.

Two hundred twenty years later, the federal government is gearing up for its decennial census, expecting to formally count a population roughly 100 times the amount of that first poll.

Richard W. Robinson, managing director for the West Hills census office, said he is expecting to count 650,000 to 700,000 people during the next year, in an area that reaches from the Ventura County line at the west end of Malibu through Thousand Oaks, Northridge, Encino, Sherman Oaks, Beverly Hills, “a sliver of Venice” and down to Santa Monica.

“It looks at least as big as Texas to me on the map,” Robinson said. “But it’s probably a little smaller.”

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Robinson wouldn’t speculate on how many residents he expects to count or what shift, if any, in regional demographics the 2010 census might offer. But he said there were plenty of good reasons for all citizens to stand up and be counted.

“Money, primarily,” Robinson said. “About $400 billion is distributed by the federal government each year to communities based on the latest census. And everyone who completes the census questionnaire and mails it back in will save $65 in tax dollars. So if civic-minded folks want to reduce the deficit, they should fill out their census form.”

Congressional districts also are drawn every 10 years, reflecting drifts in population, so the power of the state’s voting bloc is directly impacted by citizen compliance with the census.

Mayor Sharon Barovsky said of how the census would impact Malibu: “My guess is that the 2010 census will not show a big change in population here. A lot of people have moved into Malibu, but a lot of people use Malibu for a second home. However, I do think we will show a more diverse population, which is great, and a younger community. I hope that pleases everyone, but it won’t, of course.”

Census forms will be mailed out mid-March and response to them will determine Robinson’s workload during the next year. Everybody who resides within U.S. borders is to be counted, regardless of race, creed, sex, age or legal status. Major operations will be completed by August, with the Secretary of Commerce submitting a completed report to President Obama by the end of the year.

“We count all residents, including undocumented workers,” Robinson said. “But the purpose of the census is strictly to assess population. No information is given to any other institution or the public for 72 years and that includes Homeland Security, Immigration, the FBI or the IRS. We background check all census employees and take an oath of silence for the duration of our lives.”

To make sure that citizens are aware of the importance of their participation in the count, outreach partnerships are spreading out in local communities, with “Be Counted” offices and source centers providing information in 58 different languages.

Robinson said most people with established ties to a community, such as longtime residents or retirees, are usually the first to respond to census requests.

“Young people working several jobs, renters, parents with children who simply don’t have time are usually the ones we have to chase down,” he said. “That means boots on the street and knocking on doors.”

With an emphasis on “neighbors counting neighbors,” census workers will try to contact residents who have not mailed in their responses with a 10-question form that Robinson said is the simplest the U.S. Census Bureau has ever devised. In a dress rehearsal last spring, the Census Bureau did a trial canvass, basically walking every street in the country to map residence locations.

“That information is protected as well,” Robinson said.

The census questionnaire is straightforward. For every resident in a household, the census requires a name, sex, age, race and date of birth. That’s it.

The U.S. Census also provides a local job creation opportunity. Robinson said he would be hiring approximately 1,000 census workers full- and part-time to canvass nights and weekends to complete the count. Pay rates vary depending on the area. Starting pay for census workers at the West Hills office is $17 per hour. Applicants must speak English, although bilingual skills are a plus, and must provide appropriate photo identification and complete a basic math skills and reasoning exam-and be ready to cover some ground.

“I did a preliminary canvass that took me into the Llano district of Lancaster in areas I didn’t even know existed,” Robinson said. “My four wheel drive was thrashed. They called it a road, but you’d be surprised.”

More information can be obtained online at www.census2010.gov. Anyone interested in applying to be a census worker can call 818.518.1440 locally, or 866.861.2010 for other areas of the country.

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