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Census Tour Stop Comes To Hartford, Urging Residents To Participate


January 07, 2010

HARTFORD - More than 200 people trickled in and out of the blue trailer marked "Portrait of America! United States Census 2010. It's in Our Hands" Wednesday morning.

The trailer was in Hartford's Pope Park as part of a 150,000-mile tour around the country promoting the 2010 Census. Inside were large glass panels, each marked with one of the 10 questions featured on the census form. Participants also stopped to record video testimonials of why they believe filling out the form is important.

The goal of the tour is to increase awareness of the U.S. Census. The 10-question form, the shortest form in census history, will be mailed to households March 15-17.

The tour stop coincided with the Three Kings Day Parade, which is traditionally popular among Latinos. It was a strategic stop: The Latino population historically is undercounted.

"They don't understand the importance of the census," said Lillian Ruiz, human relations director and head of Hartford's Complete Count Committee.

Inside the trailer, Ruiz was holding several red Three Kings Day maracas while surrounded by census paraphernalia. She explained that, within the Hispanic population, there are illegal immigrants who are worried that the information will be used against them and that they'll be deported. She emphasized that there are no citizenship questions on the form and that the U.S. Census Bureau is legally prohibited from sharing its detailed information with other government agencies. Also, she said, some Hispanic people do not speak English or do not speak English well, deterring them from completing the census.

"There's a lot of fear, a lack of knowledge and the message not getting to them in their language," Ruiz said.

Participation in the census from each of the more than 3.4 million people who live in Connecticut is important, officials said. The federal government is expected to give states more than $400 billion every year for the next 10 years based on census information. That means, for Connecticut, millions of dollars for state and municipal programs, social services, police and emergency services, schools, hospitals, job training centers and more. Also, the census information determines how many representatives Connecticut sends to the U.S. House of Representatives and the size of each district in the state legislature.

While every household is receiving a short form, more detailed socioeconomic information will be gathered through the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which also will be sent to residences.

Officials said that participation is especially key in the Latino community, which is experiencing a population growth statewide. In 2000, there were 320,323 people who identified themselves as Hispanic in the census. In 2008, according to the American Community Survey, there were 419,391 people who identified themselves as Hispanic. In Hartford, the Hispanic population count has stayed about the same, between 47,000 and 48,000 since 2000.

Hartford officials said that about 56 percent of the city's residents mailed in the form in 2000 and that they want to increase the response rate by 10 to 20 percentage points.

Russel Hicks, the local census office manager, said that one way to get more responses is to have residents reach out to their neighbors. The census offices in the state are hiring for those and other census jobs.

He said that residents are less likely to answer questions about their household if someone who doesn't look like they come from the neighborhood is knocking on the front door. "If people are from the neighborhoods, they know the people," Hicks said.

Also, he said, there will be questionnaire assistance centers and other census offices to explain the census form. Forms will be written in multiple languages, and multilingual census workers will be reaching out to people.

"People will see exactly how the census works. ... The outreach is absolutely important," Hicks said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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