Housing Complex

Three (More) Questions for Maurice Henderson, the Man Who Will Make Sure You Participate in the 2010 Census

Earlier this week, I posted the first few questions from my interview with Maurice Henderson, the head of the DC Counts Campaign, which is urging city residents to participate in the 2010 Census.

In the first round, we talked about the District's participation goals and hard to count populations (like college students and prisoners). Next up: How many people will be hired to work on the D.C. census? And what's the point of all this anyway?

When am I going to be getting my form?

In early March, you'll get a letter in the mail from the Census Bureau that says you'll be receiving a form in the mail, and that it's your census questionnaire, which will take you about ten minutes to fill it out.

Then a couple of weeks later, the actual questionnaire form will be mailed to the house. It won't have a name on it. It will only have an address. So the questionnaire form will get there probably by March 20th or so. Then, you'll get a postcard in the mail somewhere in the time frame between March 20th and April 1, maybe even after April 1, that says "thank you for your participation in the Census. It's extraordinarily important that you do this. If you haven't had an opportunity to fill out the form, please do so." It will probably also say something about "if you're having trouble with your form, here's a number to call. Here's a website to look at. Find your local questionnaire assistance center or local census office for assistance."

So April 1, which is the date you'll probably be hearing more and more about, is national census day. I know someone's probably going to say "isn't that April Fool's day and isn't that a kind of a conflicting message." That's the day they've been doing forever. So April 1 is national census day. What that means is the Census bureau is encouraging everyone to mail back the form by or on April 1. Over the course of about 20 or so days, the Census will take all the forms back. They will then take a look at the data they have. Then, they'll say now we've got to amass a number of enumerators to go out and knock on the doors of the neighborhoods of the particular addresses that did not mail back a form. That is the process that the vast majority of people are familiar with: Someone coming to my door, asking me a bunch of questions, filling out this form, and going from there. That process will start probably in late April or the first week of May. It will go through the end of June, possibly into July.

So this is mainly about gathering tax money, right—that's why the Census data is so important?

Essentially, it's about services. So you could look at it as just funding–but I look at it as buses and rails. I look at it as our ability to do free H1N1 clinics for our most vulnerable populations. It's workforce development programs. In FY 07—which is the last year I have data on—over $2.1 billion dollars was dispersed because of census data.

There's a much more  basic way to look at the census from the District's perspective. One, the most fundamental thing that government does is protect its citizens. And number two, to protect its citizens, it needs to know how many of them there are and where they are. We're a high value target—and I don't need to tell anyone that lives in this region why that is—and you need to know where people are because you need to have effective evacuation routes. We need to know how many people live in this section of Ward 7 or in the Columbia Heights area, so that we have some sense of the languages and the cultural things that need to be considered when we're pumping out PSAs for different things.

How many people will be hired in D.C. to work on the Census?

I would guesstimate approximately a thousand, if not more. Obviously, it's going to depend on resources. We're going to be struggling like everyone else to make sure we have enough people on the ground to do that. My understanding is that they've been doing this hiring process for months. As of November, the number was 385.

So in April of last year, they did an address verfication, and as you probably know, the District had recently submitted a challenge to the bureau's address file. We challenged for an additional 5,700 addresses to be pre-added to our file. It looks like those adresses will be part of the mail that will got out later this year. The [D.C. employees] were hired at various points, so they're part of the census workforce. A few of those people–I would imagine–probably aren't working at the moment and are on standby for when work needs to be done.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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