Local committee looks to rev up census efforts

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Stacy Vogel
Sunday, December 27, 2009

As we head into a new decade, it’s time once again for the decennial U.S. census.

The census aims to count every resident in the country. It’s used by the federal government to allocate congressional representatives and government funds and by other groups to research areas for everything from new businesses to advocacy projects, according to the census Web site.

But the federal government is a big entity, and it doesn’t know much about, for example, Rock County.

That’s why the feds ask local governments and organizations to help promote the census in their communities.

“The feds realize that it’s people at the local level who know best how to get in contact with their communities and where to go to get information,” said Terry Nolan, associate planner for the city of Janesville and a member of the Rock County Census Complete Count Committee.

The committee is especially focused on getting low-income and minority populations counted because they tend to be underrepresented in the census, Nolan said.

For example, the YWCA of Rock County already is reaching out to its Spanish-speaking clients to explain the importance of the census.

The committee has met a few times and will rev up its work in early 2010, said Josh Smith, assistant to the county administrator and staff liaison for the committee.

It receives no federal funding, but there are low-cost ways it can get the word out, he said.

“It’s things like having organizations put a link up on their Web site or utility bills having a blurb or newsletters,” he said.

After all, it’s in the community’s best interests to have a complete count, Smith said.

“So many federal funding opportunities are based on census count,” he said.

Census Q&A

Here are some questions and answers about the upcoming 2010 census, taken from the census Web site.

Q: When can I expect a census form?

A: Census forms will be mailed in mid-March 2010 and should be returned by April 1, National Census Day. They’ll have 10 questions, including name, age and race of each person in the home. The census Web site estimates the forms take 10 minutes to fill out.

In the past, random households have been asked to fill out longer forms to gather more detailed socioeconomic information. The long form now has been replaced by the American Community Survey, an annual survey of a sample of the population. No one will receive the long form in the 2010 census.

Q: Can I fill out the form online?

A: No, but the U.S. Census Bureau is working on Internet options for future census years.

Q: What if I don’t fill it out?

A: By law, you must answer all questions on the census form to the best of your ability. The census is hiring short-term employees who will visit households that don’t return the forms.

Even if you return your form, you might be visited as part of quality checks to make sure census workers are doing their jobs properly, the census Web site says.

All census takers will have official government badges and never will ask to enter your home.

Q: Who can see my information?

A: Legally, the U.S. Census Bureau can’t share your answers with anyone, including the IRS, FBI, CIA or other government agency. All U.S. Census Bureau employees take an oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect the confidentiality of the data.

Government looking to hire census takers

The United States government couldn’t have picked a better time to hire hundreds of thousands of short-term employees.

Most hiring for the 2010 census will happen in winter and early spring, but job seekers can apply now, said Pat Ryan, manager of the Madison census office.

“There are still plenty of openings,” he said.

The Madison region, encompassing 10 counties in south central and southwestern Wisconsin, is hoping to recruit about 4,200 people, Ryan said.

Walworth County falls in the Kenosha region, which is looking to recruit about the same number of people.

Applicants must take a skills test and go through a background check.

A sample skills test online asks applicants to alphabetize words, define terms and pick out number patterns.

The test is free. You can take it as many times as you want but not more than once a day, Ryan said. Your highest score will be the one used.

Most of the people hired will visit households that didn’t return the census form to get the answers manually.

“We try to keep people as close to home as possible,” Ryan said. “We like people to work in and for their own neighborhoods.”

The jobs will last between two and eight weeks and will be full and part time. Hours are flexible, so the positions are good for people looking for second jobs, he said.

The positions start at $13 an hour in the Madison region and $14 an hour in the Kenosha region, according to the census Web site.

For more information, visit 2010

censusjobs.gov. There, you can download an application and take a practice test. To find the next test near you, call (608) 327-5620 if you live in Rock County and (262) 842-1620 if you live in Walworth County.

You must bring either a passport or two forms of ID establishing photo identity and employment eligibility, such as a driver’s license and birth certificate, Ryan said.

—Stacy Vogel

Last updated: 12:05 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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