Census asks: Anybody home?

Census Bureau is now set to deliver forms by hand to rural areas of county

HUDSON–“We can’t move forward until you mail it back.”

If you haven’t heard that 2010 census slogan, you must be living under a rock somewhere–in which case a census taker is looking for you.

Those in Columbia County who have received their decennial census forms and have already mailed them back are among the 41% of the county’s population listed on the US Census’ Take 10 Map, a participation rate map. The state rate of participation is also 41% as of March 30. Nationally, the participation rate, so far, is 46%.

People can track all participation rates by visiting 2010census.gov and clicking on Mail Participation Rate. The rates are updated daily. Only 63% of Columbia County residents participated in the 2000 census, according to the website.

Locally, Patrice Perry, a senior planner at the Columbia County Planning and Economic Development office, is a US Census data center affiliate. “We act as a conduit with census program, when we receive information we pass it along,” Ms. Perry said this week.

One such bit of forwarded information was guidance from the Census Bureau about the counting of “snowbirds”–people who live in Columbia County only part of the year.

They should be counted at their “usual residence,” which is where they spend most of their time during the year, said an email from Dave Sheppard, chief of the Population and Housing Programs Branch of the US Census Bureau.

People “in snowbird situations” will likely receive a census form at each of their residences, and Mr. Sheppard advises snowbirds to fill out both forms and return them. The form mailed to the address where they spend most of their time, should be filled out completely, while homeowners should indicate on the form that is mailed to the alternate residence, that zero people live there, and leave the rest of the questionnaire blank. If the census bureau has any questions, someone will call.

Provided for in the Constitution, the counting of every person living in the United States, first accomplished in 1790, is important for many reasons. Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Roy Brown (R-Germantown), said in a phone interview March 30, that the population count determines how Assembly and state Senate district lines are drawn.

Mr. Brown estimates that the county’s population numbers will be slightly lower in the current census than in 2000 because “our children are going off to college and not coming back. Job growth is not here in Columbia County.” Chairman Brown said he aims to change that by making it a priority to bring economic development and tourism to the county, not only to keep younger generations here, but also to encourage others to move here.

In a letter to the editor in the March 25 issue of The Columbia Paper, Hillsdale Supervisor and former Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer wrote that people who don’t fill out the 2010 census are “effectively voting for higher taxes.”

Because census data help determine how much the state and local communities receive in federal funding for important social services, the larger the population the more money received “and that keeps our taxes reasonable,” Mr. Baer wrote.

For every person counted in a community, $1,500 in federal funding is received; factored out over the next 10 years, that’s $15,000, according to David Mance, the local census office manager in Albany. The Albany office is a satellite of the Census Bureau’s Boston Regional Office, which is responsible for all data collection, data dissemination and geographic operations in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Puerto Rico and 53 counties in upstate New York, including Columbia County.

Mr. Mance said in a phone interview this week that in February and March, 35 people were employed by the Census Bureau to hand deliver census questionnaires to residences in the southeastern part of the county: the towns of Ancram, Austerlitz, Copake, Gallatin and Hillsdale.

The area was chosen for hand delivery because of the significant numbers of people with rural route or post office box addresses, as opposed to street addresses. Though there is a mix of people in those towns who do have street addresses, Mr. Mance said, “It is much more accurate to do a total area, rather than pick and choose which is which.” All Greene County residents received their census forms by hand delivery, he said.

People who received their census forms early were encouraged to send them in by April 1.

People here who received their census questionnaires but don’t send them back by April 1 and those who have not yet received questionnaires will all be visited in May by 120 new staff members plus the 35 staff members on board since February, Mr. Mance said.

For every household that responds to the census by mail, the bureau saves $70 that would have otherwise been spent paying a staff member for a visit.

The 10-question form “is obviously greatly streamlined, and most people are able to do it; it’s not an arduous task,” said Mr. Mance.

The biggest census issue he has dealt with is the number of calls from people who live in areas like Philmont, where residents have not yet received their census forms because they do not have mail delivery to their homes. Residents there say they want to participate and they don’t want to wait till May for census form delivery, said Mr. Mance.

Asked how people without a home are counted, Mr. Mance said the Census Bureau starts by accessing a number of data bases and information sources, such as food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, human services agencies, local service providers, social services offices, county, city and town officials.

While census takers working in teams may attempt to conduct brief interviews with the homeless in places they frequent, Mr. Mance said the process for filling out a form is shorter, since housing information is not needed. If there is any reluctance on the part of the person to give information, the person would be counted just by “observation,” he said, noting that safety is an important part of the census operation, and census employees do not venture into places like vacant buildings looking for people to count.

Though a local office manager, Mr. Mance has only been with the Census Bureau for a year, laying the groundwork, opening the office, identifying households, preparing for and accomplishing the count.

“It’s the largest peacetime operation that the US conducts,” he said, but once the census is complete, his job will be over.

“The census is kind of like Brigadoon,” Mr. Mance said, reflecting on the massive effort. “It pops up out of the mist for a while, then it’s gone.”

To contact Diane Valden email .

Comments are closed.