"More People, More Money" - Making the 2010 Census Count

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It's called a "snapshot of America". The U.S. Census Bureau is getting ready to take that picture on April 1st. The Bureau wants to know where every person in the country is living on that date. For Fred Collier and his colleagues on the Cleveland City Planning Commission, there's a lot at stake.

FRED COLLIER: The numbers kind of speak for themselves. It is estimated that Cleveland will lose about $12,000 in federal funds over the next ten years for each resident missed.

Federal dollars that come to Northeast Ohio are adjusted every ten years based on the population count. State and congressional district boundaries are redrawn based on Census figures.

ROBERT BROWN: And you know, it's not just the funding and the political representation.

City Planning Director Robert Brown says population numbers are also scrutinized by area businesses.

ROBERT BROWN: They look at the market, and if they see that a certain neighborhood has a relatively low population, they may not choose to locate there if it's, let's say, a retail operation. But the thing is, there may be that a lot more people who live there than the Census showed --- because the count was low.

So, a concerted effort is being made to guard against an under-count. Officials say it's important that people be counted where they are. So, while a college student might not think that a dorm room is his or her real address, for the purposes of the American "snapshot", the Census says it is. Similarly, someone who has lost their home and is living with relatives might think that it's a temporary situation, but if that's where you're residing on April 1st, Robert Brown says that's where you need to be counted.

ROBERT BROWN: The fact is, if they're not counted at that time, they're not counted at all.

Poverty makes the count more difficult, says John Begala, who heads the Center for Community Solutions in Cleveland.

JOHN BEGALA: The risk for Northeast Ohio is that, unfortunately, areas where there are higher concentrations of low income people --- people who move frequently, because of need, because of job employment opportunities --- will tend to depress the count.

There’s a simple explanation for that, he says – they’re just harder to find. Community outreach specialist Angela Woodsen is marshaling the support of area clergy to help locate those who may have fallen through the cracks. In addition, the homeless will be carefully canvassed. Woodson says the growing Hispanic population is also a major focus --- including so-called "undocumented" workers.

ANGELA WOODSON: So, it's making sure that we have enough individuals that are out and about that can speak Spanish and give them that trust and understanding so they don't feel like, "You're going to take me back if I'm not legally here" and all those issues around all the immigrant issues.

Another challenge in past Census counts has been the form itself, which was detailed, and sometimes tedious. This time, there are only ten questions that cover the basics of age, gender, race and where you live. These surveys will be mailed out in mid-March. If you don't return the form by mail, a Census taker will pay you a visit to gather the data in person. City Planner Fred Collier says the idea is to make the process as straightforward and easy as possible, to ensure the most complete count.

FRED COLLIER: If individuals are not counted, that's dollars lost. "More people, more money" --- that's really the mantra here.

Although Ohio's population has actually increased over the past ten years, it hasn't kept pace with the growth rate of other states. The Virginia-based, non-partisan survey firm Polidata forecasts that most of the Great Lakes states will lose a congressional seat, once the headcount is finished. Ohio could lose as many as two seats. But, that's just a projection, pending the arrival of real numbers. And between now and the end of the year, there's going to be a big push to get those numbers right.

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