It’s not only a new year, it is also a decennial Census year. But more urban areas face dangers of undercounting not just from minority areas but from “transformed housing” like basement apartments.
As part of a constitutional mandate, every ten years the Census Bureau conducts a population count. The initial purpose of the census was to determine the appropriation of state representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives. However, the once a decade population count provides critical demographic and housing data that federal and local officials use to determine the distribution of federal money.
To count the population, the Census Bureau mails questionnaires to every residence in the United States beginning in March in preparation for Census Day on April 1st. Households fill out the form, using April 1st as a point of reference, and mail it back in the pre-addressed stamped envelope.
Unlike past Census years, the 2010 Census form contains just 10 short questions, including name, age, date of birth, sex, race, Hispanic origin, and housing type. For every Census form that is not mailed back, the Census Bureau sends a field interviewer to follow up with household and to collect the missing information. This is a costly operation and could be avoided if people would just mail back their forms. In 2000, the national mail-back response rate was 67%. The mail-back response rate for the District of Columbia was 60%.
There are several challenges to getting an accurate count of area residents. Past decennial counts undercounted racial/ethnic minorities. Blacks make up approximately 53% of the District’s population, for example. The Wards with the largest black populations also had some of the lowest mail-back rates for the 2000 Census. Ward 8 had the lowest mail-back response rate in the District (45%). Local community organizations have stepped up efforts to help lessen the accuracy gap in the count of minority groups, but more out reach is needed to ensure an accurate count.
Another obstacle the District faces is getting 2010 Census forms to those who live in what the Census calls “transformed housing”. Homes that have been subdivided into multiple units often only have one mailing address. A number of homes, especially in more urban communities, have basement apartments that are rented out separately from the rest of the house, but there is only one mailbox. Since the Census Bureau uses mailing addresses to send out forms, this means that a house that has multiple units but only one official mailing address will only get one form. Each unit/household should get their own questionnaire to make sure all persons are counted correctly.
If you do not get a 2010 questionnaire because you live in a transformed housing structure or have questions about how the fill the form out, you can contact your local Questionnaire Assistance Center (QAC). The Census Bureau expects to open 30,000 QACs across the county between March 19th and April 19th. The Census Bureau is still determining the potential sites, but all locations should be finalized by February 2010 and posted on the 2010 Census website. It will take a little effort on your part to get a form if you live somewhere with multiple units, but one mailing address, but being counted is priceless.
The 2010 Census form is one of shortest ever sent out, yet the information collected is just as important as ever for your immediate neighborhood and for the District. To keep up with the latest developments, check out the Census’ 2010 Blog.