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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hawaii's mail participation in census strong in Honolulu, weak on Neighbor Islands



By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Brandon Remigio of Kalihi said he was eager to fill out a 2010 Census questionnaire. Had he received one, he said, he surely would have.

"I wish they would have sent me one because I definitely want our voices to be heard," said Remigio, who has six children. "Politics is politics and they don't listen to us in general. But this is one way to have my little voice counted."

Alas, the Remigio mailbox was somehow excluded from the U.S. Census Bureau's massive mailout in March, and apparently from a subsequent follow-up mailing to areas with traditionally low response rates.

Remigio lives in an area just outside of Kūhiō Park Terrace where just 35 percent of residences have returned census questionnaires.

The area has the lowest mail participation rate among non-military areas on O'ahu, and it stands in stark contrast to places like Mānoa, 'Āhuimanu, parts of Mililani and other census tracts on O'ahu that have mail response rates of better than 80 percent.

Overall, Hawai'i's mail participation rate in the 2010 Census has improved since the last decennial count, thanks in large part to strong participation in metropolitan Honolulu.

Participation has improved but remains relatively low on the Wai'anae Coast, North Shore and Neighbor Islands, census officials said. O'ahu military installations have also recorded low mail participation rates, in part because of deployments and high turnover, census officials said.

Remigio, 27, isn't sure why he didn't get a questionnaire, but he said he and others in his neighborhood are starting to get that old familiar feeling of being ignored by the government.

In fact, the census tract in which Remigio lives was the focus of intensive census promotions in the weeks and months leading up to last month's mailback deadline, including a visit in March by Rebecca Blank, U.S. Department of Commerce Under Secretary for Economic Affairs.

And, to be sure, the area will get all due attention in the coming months as census enumerators attempt to reach the remaining 65 percent of residences through door-to-door visits.

"We did a lot of work in the area, especially trying to reach those who do not watch TV or consume other media, and we were hoping the numbers would be higher," said Winnie Wilson, manager of the Honolulu census office. "But we intend to get them one way or another."

66% MAILED FORMS IN

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 66 percent of Hawai'i residences have returned their census questionnaires by mail, compared with the national mail response rate of 72 percent.

Still, the state is doing better than it did during the last decennial count, when 64 percent of local residences returned forms via mail. Hawai'i is one of 28 states that has met or improved on their 2000 Census response rates.

The U.S. Census Bureau adopted mail participation this year as a more effective means than the traditional "mail response" method of gauging census participation. The mail participation rate reflects the percentage of forms mailed back by households that received them. This rate excludes households whose forms were returned by the U.S. Postal Service as "undeliverable," an indication that the house was vacant.

Mail participation rates are typically higher than those for mail response. Still, Wilson said Hawai'i's overall participation has improved, even with statistical adjustments for the different methodology.

That doesn't mean, of course, that census enumerators will have an easy task this summer.

While O'ahu recorded a strong overall mail response rate of 73 percent, rates for the counties of Hawai'i (55 percent), Kaua'i (53 percent) and Maui (50 percent) were all well below the national average.

The Wai'anae census office is shouldering much of the burden of tracking down Hawai'i residences that have not turned in a census form. The office covers central and leeward O'ahu, the Wai'anae Coast and each of the Neighbor Islands, which account for roughly 124,325 of the 201,325 local households believed to be yet uncounted.

The task is complicated by the fact that residences in many of these areas are spread out over a much wider geographical area than those in metropolitan Honolulu.

THE TASK IN WAI'ANAE

Wai'anae census office manager Kathleen Popa said questionnaires sent back after last month's deadline are still being processed, and could reduce the number of residences her enumerators have to visit by as much as 10,000.

The Wai'anae office is coordinating the efforts of about 1,700 enumerators. An estimated 2,700 enumerators have been hired overall in Hawai'i.

The door-to-door visits began yesterday and are expected to continue through July.

Popa said outreach efforts coordinated by local census offices and their community partners made a significant difference this year even if low participation rates in certain areas do not reflect this.

She said the emphasis on explaining how the census affects the amount of federal funds allocated to each state, and how these funds impact each resident, provided greater motivation for residents in her areas to participate.

She noted that approximately 2,500 people who either lost or did not receive a questionnaire visited 7-Eleven, a census partner, to pick up a replacement.

Ioane Fasa'avalu, who lives in a truck with his wife, said he wanted to participate but was not sure how to get a questionnaire.

"I heard about it and it's cool," he said. "I wish I got one. I think it's important."

So does Remigio, who said he looks forward to a census taker knocking on his door.

"Definitely," he said, "I'll fill one out."

Wency Tactay, 61, lives in the same Kalihi census tract as Remigio and was surprised to hear that more of his neighbors had not returned a census questionnaire.

"If you don't send it back, they won't know how many people live here," he said. "I just want to do my part so we get the federal funding we're supposed to get. It's only once every 10 years that we have to do this."

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