It's April 1, the day that we are supposed to stop pushing that census form into the procrastination pile, actually fill it out, and return it.
So far, some midwestern states are way ahead of the rest of the country in getting those forms done.
With Thursday dubbed Census Day — the day the questionnaires are meant to capture as a snapshot — South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, North Dakota and Iowa are ranked the top five states by federal officials, because they have the highest participation rates in the census so far. People can send in the forms until mid-April, but the Midwest’s cooperativeness might rightly worry other regions.
After all, the census guides the federal government on decisions with lasting impact — like how many representatives states will have in Congress and how much federal money they win for their roads.
In the rural areas of Mississippi census workers and community groups are trying to improve the rate of census form returns.
Issaquena County and the entire Delta is plagued by poverty and illiteracy. People mistrust census takers for a variety of reasons, including a belief that the government is trying to catch them doing something illegal like misrepresenting the number of people in their household, which could affect benefits like food stamps, said Calvin Stewart, a Rolling Fork alderman, teacher, high school sports referee and spokesman for the town’s new antilitter campaign.
Mr. Stewart, the alderman, said he had been frustrated by Rolling Fork’s inability to win government grants, and said he believed an accurate census would help. Using maps that show which areas were undercounted 10 years ago, he has worked enclaves of elderly residents and poor apartment complexes, explaining again and again why the census is important.
In NY City volunteers are working to help cut through language barriers and suspicion, in order to get census forms filled out.
The work of volunteer groups helping the census is critical, and their success has often been measured in small victories. It might take hours to persuade Mexicans who illegally share an apartment on Staten Island to put all of their names on the form or days to persuade day laborers in western Queens that they should participate in the survey.
Illegal immigrants must be told, sometimes repeatedly, that the Census Bureau does not share information about individuals with any other government agency. And some immigrants and other New Yorkers need an explanation about why their taking a few minutes to fill out a form could translate into better schools, hospitals and transportation.
There's an undercurrent of suspicion of the 2010 census, which has been aided and abetted by folks like Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachman and Fox entertainer Glenn Beck.
Beck worried that by not filling out the Census the government could take away his gun. Bachmann also continued to claim that the Census information could used to put Americans into internment camps.
Sigh. Census numbers help target needed funds for schools, hospitals, and roads. Census numbers determine how voting districts for states are configured. Those numbers can lead to redistricting, and more representation in Congress. Census data is a building block for research, reports, and writing on all manner of subjects.
For a look at what the census is all about, check out the Census 2010 website. You still have time to fill out that form. A few minutes of inconvenience for you may translate into funds to meet the needs of your community.
cross posted at workingamerica.org/blog