Census promotion gets under way

They may have been worried that filling out the form would mean providing information that could lead to identity theft. They may have not understood that their participation would mean more dollars for their local city and schools.

Whatever the reason, about one-third of St. Elmo’s residents chose not to participate in the 2000 Census.

And area officials want to see that that doesn’t happen again. In fact, those in St. Elmo are a little ahead of the game this time.

About 10 area officials attended a meeting of the Fayette County Complete Count Committee last Wednesday night at Vandalia City Hall, hearing about the importance of the 2010 Census and discussing ways to get county residents to participate.

“We want to make sure that the word gets out (about the importance of the census), and we want to make sure that everybody knows that this (data that’s collected) is private information that doesn’t go elsewhere,” Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman said in kicking off last week’s meeting.

Charles Ewell, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, said that the government has tried to encourage participation in the census this year by sending out to everyone a short form.

The short form has only 10 questions. “Ten questions in 10 minutes,” the Census Bureau says as encourages all residents to fill out “one of the shortest forms in history.”

Ewell and Gottman emphasized at last week’s meetings that the 2010 short form does not ask people to provide financial information.

The short form asks residents to answer:

• The number of people in the household.

• Whether there are other people living at that residence.

• Whether the occupants own or rent the residence.

• The phone number of the person filling out the form.

• The names of those living in the residence.

• The sex of those living in the residence.

• The age(s) and date(s) of birth of the resident(s).

• Whether the resident(s) are of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish heritage.

• The race of the resident(s).

• Whether anyone staying in the residence lives or stays elsewhere (i.e., nursing home, college or military).

Area residents can expect to receive the census forms either late February or early March. All forms are to be returned by April 1, which is the national Census Day, Ewell said.

He did note that some households will receive long forms, not just in 2010, and emphasized that the long form is part of the American Community Survey, not the 2010 Census. One in eight families will be sent that long form each year, he said.

He also pointed out that residents are required by law to fill out census forms, and that those who do not respond should expect a visit from a census worker. Those census workers will also visit some homes where residents did fill out the forms, to ensure the accuracy of the information received.

The information received by the Census Bureau, Ewell said, remains confidential for 72 years.

The federal government uses the census data in disbursing about $400 billion each year to such entities as school districts, hospitals and municipal governments.

Not only do high participation rates help get those federal funds to local entities, Ewell said. It also saves the government money.

“For every 1-percent response rate, the government saves $8.5 million,” he said, explaining that the higher the response rate, the less manhours are needed by census workers to go to households and get the requested information.

In 2000, Ewell said, this area’s overall response rate was considered high. North of Vandalia, about 20 percent of the residents did not participate, and in St. Elmo, the non-response rate was 30 percent.

Deb Philpot, superintendent of the St. Elmo School District, said that leaders in that community have already banded together in an effort to get out the word about residents’ participation in the federal project.

Just last week, former University of Illinois and professional football player Marques Sullivan participated in school assemblies to encourage students to pass along to their parents the importance of participating in the census.

Philpot said presentations are also planned for the St. Elmo-Brownstown varsity boys basketball game and a parent-teacher organization meeting. “And we’re trying to find other events,” she said.

The St. Elmo Ministerial Alliance has also agreed to join the effort, Philpot said, and the Caring & Sharing committee in that community included census information in the Christmas baskets it handed out in December.

Vandalia Superintendent of Schools Rich Well told the group that all of the school districts could dispatch short voice reminders about the census to parents and guardians through their I-Reach phone messaging system, and could also include written messages with report cards.

Gottman said the city plans to include notes encouraging participation on its water bills, and that it could include verbal reminders on its phone system.

The group also talked about census notes and reminders being included in church bulletins and in newsletters mailed out by such organizations as Vandalia Main Street.

They also talked briefly about the number of local jobs created through the census.

Ewell said the Census Bureau would likely receive “upwards of 500 applications,” and that several hundred workers would be needed in the area.

The actual number of jobs to be filled, he said, will be determined by the response rate. The more people who respond, the less jobs there will be.

The response rate will also determine how long the jobs last. “They will be for two to six weeks, though some could be up to eight weeks,” Ewell said.

Those applying for jobs will be tested on clerical and math skills, as well as their ability to read maps, he said. Those selected for census jobs will be required to undergo four days of training.

“These will be part-time jobs, and the workers can set their own schedules,” Ewell said.

“Also, the jobs won’t cancel unemployment (benefits),” he said. “Their unemployment will be extended.”

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