Census Bureau launches road tour 'Portrait of America' to raise awareness and participation in Census
By Chris Levister –
It’s hard mobilizing communities for the 2010 Census when the bulls-eye keeps moving.
Look no further for signs of that moving target than this stately looking brick home in east Riverside County where the locks on the door are rusting and the torn sign in the front yard says – ‘foreclosure – must sell’.
“Count them out,” said Monica Frank who lives next door. She recalled the middle class family with four kids. “They were very stable. Until the husband (a civil engineer) lost his job. In 2007 they moved out in the middle of the night,” Frank said. “The place was rented then sold to another family in 2008. That family abandoned the home in November 2009.”
The woman points out one abandoned house after another on her block - hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.
“That large brick one’s vacant. That white one with the circular driveway is vacant. The one next to it is also vacant,” she said.
It’s a familiar tale of woe the U.S. Census Bureau is grappling with less than three months before it mails out census forms to every household in March. California is home to 10 of the 50 counties nationwide with the largest numbers of people deemed hard to count because of foreclosure, high unemployment, a large illegal immigrant population and lack of home telephone service. Census officials estimate the average household size in communities hit hard by foreclosure is about 4.8 people. Before the last national census in 2000, California lawmakers approved a $25 million media blitz to increase the chances that every Californian would be counted and the state would get its fair share of federal funding and political clout in Washington, Sacramento and beyond.
At a Southern California census and redistricting conference last fall Ditas M. Katague, the state’s census 2010 director, hummed a very different tune: “You’ve got me and a couple of loaned staff.” Massive budget problems have sharply limited the state’s census spending, to just $2 million for 2009-10. The California Endowment, the Kaiser Family Foundation, other community groups and some local governments are attempting to fill the gap, but they face fiscal problems of their own.
“I’m concerned about the census. I don’t want to lose a (congressional) seat,” says Hemet Councilwoman Robin Lowe, president of the League of California Cities. Lowe sees bad news on the census front particularly when it comes to outreach.
“I think Mr. Katague is doing the best he can, considering the lack of resources, but it’s going to take an army of local grass-roots volunteers to make it successful.” There’s a lot at stake for the fast growing Inland Empire in the decennial count. Federal funds are allocated based on census results.
The census also determines the number of Congressional seats each state has. State officials say overlooking as few as 2,500 people could mean at least one seat in Congress could go elsewhere for the next decade.
State Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, (D-Chino) represents a San Bernardino based district dotted with foreclosure signs. “I think there is a concerted effort underway to raise awareness and address the lack of outreach spending because everybody understands what’s at stake.” Foreclosure is not new to the census said U.S. Census Bureau director Dr. Robert Groves.
“Operationally, we’re counting houses and whoever lives there just like we’ve always done. We know that foreclosure is happening all across the country and that we’re going to have to work harder to track people down,” Groves said. “Those people are somewhere and we need to make sure we count them somewhere.” That “somewhere” could be with family or friends, in another house or apartment, or it could be in a homeless shelter. In any case, that displacement makes it harder to get an accurate census count. So cities, ethnic, faith groups and the U.S. Census Bureau are trying to make sure that those hard to track people, whether homeless or not, understand the importance of participating in the census.
Portrait of America Road Tour Reaches Out
The 2010 Census ‘Portrait of America’ Road Tour set out January 4, 2010 from New York City’s Times Square, launching a cross-country interactive experience designed to increase awareness and encourage participation in the nation’s once-a-decade population count.
During the next four months, the tour will be part of the largest civic outreach and awareness campaign in U.S. history – highly visible vehicles stopping and exhibiting at more than 800 events nationwide. From local parades and festivals to major sporting events like the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four, the Census Bureau will attempt to motivate America’s growing and increasingly diverse population to complete and mail back 10-question census forms when they arrive in mailboxes March 15-17. The Road Tour seeks to educate and empower, Groves said. “Attendees at Road Tour events will learn about the census, how it affects their local communities and even share their personal stories about why the census is important to them at interactive kiosks and exhibits.” The regional vehicles offer a similar user experience, including GPS technology that allows visitors to track the tour online as it happens and through daily social media postings on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and YouTube.
This constantly changing “Portrait of America” will be captured during all Road Tour events and will live online at 2010census.gov.