WASHINGTON, March 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- U.S. Commerce Deputy Secretary Dennis F. Hightower today met with local government officials and community leaders to assess the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 Census efforts to ensure a complete count of Gulf Coast residents affected by hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.
"We hired early, provided extra training, added an extra local office, increased pay rates, and are delivering the form to any housing unit that is or may be habitable -- all to ensure a complete count in hurricane-affected areas of the Gulf Coast," Hightower said. "As people move back and the area continues to rebuild, it's imperative that everyone be included in the once-a-decade count."
As with similar procedures in extreme rural parts of the country, census takers, this week, began hand delivering 2010 Census questionnaires to every housing unit in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes and parts of Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. John and St. Charles parishes in Louisiana. (The remaining parts of these parishes will receive their questionnaires in the mail.)
Census workers will leave a form packaged in a plastic bag at the home's main door and residents are encouraged to fill out and mail back their census forms -- using the enclosed pre-paid envelope -- as soon as possible.
In 2000, about 72 percent of the U.S. population mailed back their census forms -- halting a three-decade decline in the national mail participation rate. However, 2000 mail participation rates in the parishes receiving hand-delivered 2010 Census forms lagged behind the national average. The 2000 rates:
- Orleans: 58 percent
- St. Bernard: 68 percent
- Plaquemines: 54 percent
- Jefferson: 71 percent
- St. Tammany: 69 percent
- St. John: 64 percent
- St. Charles: 67 percent
Mailing back the forms saves taxpayers money, as it reduces the number of census takers that must go door-to-door to follow up with households that failed to do so. The Census Bureau saves about $85 million in operational costs for every percentage point increase in the national mail response rate.
The Census Bureau is urging everyone to take 10 minutes to fill out the census forms and mail them back. Starting March 22, visitors to the 2010 Census Web site will be able to track how well their communities are participating in the census on a daily basis. Communities will even be able to embed a Web-based tool on their own Web sites that automatically updates the daily rates. An interactive Google-based map is now online that allows visitors to find out how well their communities did in the 2000 Census. The Census Bureau is challenging all communities to improve their 2000 mail participation rates in 2010.
All census responses are confidential. Answers are protected by law and cannot be shared with anyone. The Census Bureau takes extreme measures to protect the identity of individuals and businesses. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents' individually identifiable answers with anyone, including tribal housing authorities, other federal agencies and law enforcement entities.
Special Measures Taken to Ensure a Complete Count in Katrina-Affected Areas
- Changing the distribution methodology for the census form
In order to get the most updated address changes and to ensure proper delivery of the census questionnaire, all of Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes and parts of Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. John and St. Charles parishes will have census forms delivered to households by hand via census employees. At that same time, census employees will update the address list and leave a questionnaire for any units not previously identified on the address list.
- Increasing partnership specialists and partnership specialist assistants in the affected areas
Partnership specialists -- staff responsible for developing relationships with local businesses and organizations to help raise census awareness -- were increased for the 2010 Census, partially funded by the Recovery Act.
In 2000, the Census Bureau employed three partnership specialists to work in the area. In 2010, the Census Bureau has doubled the number of partnership specialists to six.
The Census Bureau also employs 18 partnership specialist assistants in the area, bringing the total full-time personnel dedicated solely to community outreach in Southern Louisiana to 24.
There are now 84 complete count committees and more than 900 community partners signed up in Louisiana.
- Hiring staff early to help with research and outreach
An area manager was hired approximately five months ahead of schedule to begin researching the unique challenges facing the hurricane-affected areas. The Area Manager conducted research and planning activities and began partnership building with government and community leaders.
A regional technician, who lives and has strong community ties in Southern Louisiana, was hired at the same time -- six months ahead of schedule for this position -- and became the first field employee hired for census operations in the nation. The regional technician worked on the ground conducting partnership and outreach activities.
- Ensuring that decision-makers were aware of the unique challenges in Katrina-affected areas.
Beginning in April 2008, the Census Bureau's Dallas Region staff organized fact-finding tours for Census Bureau headquarters staff so they could gain first-hand experience of the devastation within the region. Congressional staff, training-manual writers and oversight groups also received tours. Initial contacts were made with community organizations, faith-based organizations, political leaders, grassroots, community organizations and such to reestablish contact with existing partners and to create new partners. This process involved site visits, telephone contacts and one-on-one visits with local, state and regional officials to make sure census staff properly understood the issues.
The area manager developed an action plan specifically for the area. The plan detailed issues that need to be addressed and possible solutions to the difficulties.
- Emphasizing Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) operations
The Census Bureau emphasized the importance of the Local Update of Census Addresses by holding multiple workshops and actively engaging local officials to ensure the Census Bureau had a fully updated address file utilizing the knowledge of individuals who know the area best. This effort resulted in the highest LUCA participation ever from Southern Louisiana.
- Planning for more local census offices
Based on population formulas, Louisiana should have seven offices. However, recognizing the need to overcome issues related to Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, and heeding the advice of local officials, the Census Bureau allocated an additional office for Louisiana -- for a total of eight.
- Providing extra time and area-specific training at all levels
Local census staff -- those hired, in part, for their knowledge of the area -- developed a training package for all hurricane-impacted areas. The supplemental package provided additional training on issues and problems specific to the area and emphasized problems that most affect work in the area.
Extra time was spent detailing when to delete housing units and when to add trailers. Workers also went through an extra practice canvassing session about adding a trailer.
The training also included an additional section on sensitivity issues, reluctance to participate, atypical living situations, and resentment toward the government. Trainees were instructed to use their local knowledge to identify any living situations unique to the area -- e.g., people living above nonresidential establishments or other locations that may not appear to have, upon initial inspection, nontraditional living quarters.
The training package provided supplemental pictures of common situations they may find in the area. A summarized Address Canvassing Reference Guide was provided to each lister and was a resource to use during the address canvassing operation.
- Increasing the pay rate in the area above that recommended by Census consultants
Census field workers in the area now make $17.50 per hour -- 50 cents per hour more than initially recommended.
- Adding extra time and staff for the canvassing of Katrina-affected areas
The Census Bureau added an additional field office supervisor, increasing the number from six to seven.
During addressing canvassing, the Census Bureau also required listers to "knock interview" every door to make contact with each household and verify every address, rather than simply verifying the address without engaging the residents.
ABOUT THE 2010 CENSUS
The 2010 Census is a count of everyone living in the United States and is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Census data are used to apportion congressional seats to states, to distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds to tribal, state and local governments each year and to make decisions about what community services to provide. The 2010 Census form will be one of the shortest in U.S. history, consisting of 10 questions, taking about 10 minutes to complete. Strict confidentiality laws protect the respondents and the information they provide.
Editor's note: News releases, reports and data tables are available on the Census Bureau's home page. Go to http://www.census.gov and click on "Releases."
Public Information Office
SOURCE U.S. Census Bureau