Census seeks full count of Hawaii
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Local census officials estimate Hawai'i lost out on $310 million in federal funding over the past 10 years because of "undercounting" in the 2000 census.
And while they concede that 100 percent participation in the upcoming Census 2010 is an ideal that may be impossible to attain, they say they're committed to doing whatever possible to ensure that every person in the state is counted this time around.
Thus far, residents haven't seen much sign of what's to come, but once the count begins, it will move quickly.
Reminder postcards are scheduled to be mailed in early March, followed by a mass mailout of official census forms by midmonth. Officials hope to receive the completed forms by April 1 — National Census Day. From April through July, census employees will conduct household visits to assist residents in completing the form.
Meanwhile, census officials are interviewing to hire thousands of census workers for jobs that pay up to $20 an hour. Among them will be the people who will visit your home if you don't fill out and return your form.
While U.S. citizens are required by federal law to complete the census forms, local officials are relying on simple logic rather than threat of punishment to encourage maximum participation.
The census is taken every 10 years to provide an accurate-as-possible count of every person living in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. This data is used to determine political representation and congressional districts, and to direct the allocation of more than $300 billion in federal money.
States also use census data to make decisions on infrastructure planning and construction.
"It's extremely important to get these numbers to determine how much federal funds are allocated to Hawai'i," said Pearl Imada Iboshi, the state's chief economist and chair of the 2010 Census Hawai'i Government Complete Count Committee.
Imada Iboshi said data collected from the census is also critical to local decision-making.
"From a data perspective, it helps to determine where schools are placed and where roads are built," she said. "It's an extremely important source of information in identifying where people with different needs are."
Imada Iboshi said accounting for every person who lives in the state can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Some immigrant groups are reluctant to participate because census counts are not taken in their home countries. Other residents are suspicious because they misunderstand how the data are used. People who do not have a permanent address can also be difficult to track.
The 2000 census measured Hawai'i's total population at 1,211,537, or about .43 percent of the total U.S. population. This count was used to determine the amount of money directed to Hawai'i through federal grants.
In 2007, Hawai'i received nearly $290 million in selected federal grants, including nearly $97 million for health and human services and more than $88 million for education, according to a 2009 Hawai'i Government Complete Count Committee report.
Imada Iboshi said an incomplete count of the local population resulted in an estimated $31 million lost in federal funds in each of the past 10 years.
Undercounting has been a major concern for the Census Bureau, particularly after the 1940 census, when a comparison with Selective Service registration data revealed that the census had undercounted an estimated 425,000 men of draft age. Overall, the 1940 census is believed to have undercounted the U.S. population by 5.4 percent. Improved counting and analysis methods have significantly reduced that figure, although the uncounted Americans still number in the millions.
The 2000 census is believed to have undercounted the national population by 1.2 percent, or 3.3 million people. This was an improvement over the previous census in 1990, which undercounted the population by 1.6 percent (4 million people).
The decennial census is the largest single federal undertaking. This year's effort will cost the federal government about $14 billion.
In previous decades, state governments helped to fund public awareness campaigns in support of the census effort. Given current economic conditions, however, many states, Hawai'i included, are turning to "census partnerships" with local nonprofits and other organizations to educate the public without further straining state finances.
This year's census is expected to provide short-term economic stimulus to many communities in the form of temporary jobs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 750,000 workers will have received temporary employment by the time the census is completed. Roughly 100,000 people were hired last year to help update the bureau's address list.
3,000 TEMP JOBS
In Hawai'i, the local U.S. Census Office is looking for some 19,000 qualified applicants from which they will fill an estimated 3,000 temporary positions over the next several months. The positions vary in pay from $12.75 per hour for office clerks to $20 per hour for field supervisors. Census takers, those responsible for following up with those who do not return completed census forms, earn $17 per hour.
Qualified applicants need to be U.S. citizens, at least 18 years old, with a valid Social Security number. All applicants will be required to pass a basic skills test and background check.
Applicants must score at least 10 points (out of a possible 28). Re-tests are allowed and practice tests are available at the census office.
Marilyn Yoza, head of the Census Bureau's local office, said there is a particular need for bilingual workers to assist those for whom English is not a first language.
She said the office also hopes to draw workers from the communities in which they will serve.
Despite the grand scale of census operations, the burden on respondents is as small as it's ever been. This year's form consists of just 10 questions and can be completed by most in 10 minutes. Once the form is completed and mailed back, no further action is necessary. Census takers will only visit residences that have not returned the completed form.
Yoza emphasized that, contrary to some fears, personal information cannot legally be shared with the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service or any other governmental agency.
"It's safe, simple and easy," Yoza said. "And everybody counts."