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Posted: January 10, 2010 12:01 a.m.

2010 census forms to be mailed soon

New form shortest and simplest in census history

As the world becomes ever faster and more diverse, the U.S. Census Bureau is hoping to follow suit in an effort to make the 2010 Census count the most complete ever.

For this year’s census count, which will take place from March through July, the Census Bureau has created a one-page, 10-question form that it hopes will lead to the most accurate resident count in census history.

The questions ask for residents’ names, sex, date of birth, race, phone number and household relationship and whether a resident owns or rents their dwelling. The goal of the new form is to promote participation, not to gather as much information as possible. The census bureau hopes the form will prove to be simple and easy to fill out and unobtrusive, yet remain informative.

One question noticeably absent is whether the person living in a dwelling is a U.S. citizen. The 2010 Census is aiming for a complete count of all residents, not just citizens; in the past, residents have been asked about citizenship status. Census officials say not including questions about citizenship, nor asking for Social Security numbers, will make illegal aliens more likely to answer questions and lead to better data.

Critics of the new form say not differentiating between citizens and non-citizens will unfairly transfer political power and federal money to areas with a lot of illegal immigrants.

The census has been taken every 10 years in the U.S. since 1790, and its data is used to determine the number of members each state receives in the U.S. House of Representatives. Census data also determines the boundaries of political districts for state senators and representatives and for county commissioners.

In addition to determining political power, census data also has an impact on how the federal government allocates $400 billion of its annual spending.

Setting aside the citizenship issue, officials at all levels say getting a complete count is important to ensure proper political representation and federal monetary aid.

In Newton County, local officials are kicking off their census awareness campaign. The Chamber hosted a Newton AM meeting on Wednesday to let the local business community know how they could help spread the word.

Lynn Parham, the county’s manager of the Geographic Information System department, is heading the local awareness effort. She said the form is the shortest in census history and officials hope it will take 10 minutes or less to fill out.

She said census officials have stressed the importance of spreading the word that non-citizens do not have to share their citizenship status, and that it is illegal for census workers to share any personal information. There are also laws that prevent other governmental agencies from accessing personal information gathered by the census.

The county is trying to gather as many community partners as possible to spread the word, including local businesses, city governments and churches. Churches and community centers are particularly important resources to inform non-citizens, and impoverished and non-English speaking residents.

These groups are putting up census posters, handing out fliers and hosting awareness events. Parham said the county will be placing two large banners promoting the census in high-traffic areas, like the Oak Hill community. Also, the Board of Education is going to be educating teachers and students about the census, and the City of Covington is running ads on the public access channels.

Census forms will be mailed out in March and will come in either English-only or English-Spanish bilingual forms. The census forms are supposed to be mailed back to the census bureau in April. From April through July census takers will visit any households that did not return a census form to ask the 10 questions in person. Persons that returned incomplete forms may receive a phone call or be visited in person to gather the remaining information.

Parham said her GIS department started compiling a list of all address point last year – a very complex process. She said her department is currently working on updating the boundaries for the cities in Newton County, in case they have changed due to annexations.

In addition to spreading awareness, Parham also encouraged residents to apply for temporary employment with the census bureau, which will hire hundreds of thousands of census takers and other workers for the 2010 Census. To apply for a job visit 2010censusjobs.gov.

For information about the census in general visit 2010census.gov.

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