The countdown to Census 2010 has started, and officials are working to ensure everyone in Utah is counted.
The task won't be an easy one, say state officials who point to groups that are traditionally difficult to track from immigrants and refugees to college students.
The U.S. Census Bureau is already starting targeted outreach to various demographic groups, says Philip Gbur, mathematical statistician for the U.S. Census Bureau.
"The goal is to count everyone," says Gbur. "It's feasible. We just need to try and convince people for their cooperation."
That outreach will come in the form of advertising and working with community leaders, Gbur says.
The Census Bureau doesn't share its information with other government agencies. And an accurate count is critical, officials say, for purposes of apportionment and doling out government funding for infrastructure and public services.
However, in a climate in which immigration is a hotly charged subject, it may be difficult to get immigrants facing language barriers, particularly the undocumented, to participate, says Jesse Soriano, director of the Utah Office of Ethnic Affairs.
"How can we convince some of these folks ... the census isn't going to turn them in, they're not immigration," Soriano said. "They're simply there to count."
It's an issue that also faces a diverse community of refugees, says Gerald Brown, director of the state Office of Refugee Services.
"There are going to be community outreach jobs, and it's important to hire people from the immigrant and refugee communities," he said. "It's important with refugee groups to walk door to door."
Concerns have also been raised about the logistics of the census, says Pamela Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah. The bureau recently pulled new electronic units and is going back to paper methods for door-to-door counts, done when people don't respond to mailers, she said. And the bureau has a new director.
"My question would be, who are the key players in the community who have been tapped for this?" says Perlich.
Juliette Tennert, the state's top demographer, says her office will be working with state agencies and community groups to help achieve an accurate census count.
"It really is an awareness issue," Tennert says. "Helping people to understand why it's so important to fill out the census form, and identifying people in the community ... to get that message out."
The 2000 Census was touted as the most accurate population count in history. Yet, some groups were over- or under-counted.
For example, a Census Bureau analysis estimates the 2000 Census resulted in a nationwide net under-count of 1.84 percent for non-Hispanic blacks and 0.71 percent for Hispanics. At the same time, the bureau estimates that non-Hispanic whites were over-counted by 1.13 percent.
"That's their premier product. Their central mission is to get the enumeration right," says Perlich. "Hopefully, they'll improve upon the previous count."
In 2000, Utah felt the sting of narrowly losing out on a fourth congressional seat, which went to North Carolina when thousands of overseas LDS missionaries weren't counted.
Utah has lost two court challenges to the census results and efforts to add the seat through federal legislation stalled. A test of an overseas count was done in 2004, and based on the results, the Census Bureau opted against using it in 2010, says Gbur.
Utah's most recent population estimates place the state's growth at just under 2.7 million and this time around, the state has pretty much cinched its fourth seat.
Still, Perlich says it's important on the local and state level to have an accurate count so that federal resources reflect the state's demographics."For people in the local community, their interest is getting most accurate count because of the federal dollars and congressional apportionment that ride on that number," Perlich says. "The pressure from the locals is to say, look, we are bigger than you think we are, because of the resources connected with a larger population."
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