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MC and the 2010 census, part I

Barry McNamara
02/05/2010
On the surface, “stand up and be counted” seems to be a simple enough rallying cry for the U.S. Census. After all, to quote U.S. secretary of commerce Gary Locke, “It will have enormous impact on communities and people all across America.”

Added Locke in a recent CNN report, “If you want your fair share (of federal funding), be counted, because this is money for schools, for human services, for medical services, as well as for transportation.”

But hundreds of people in Monmouth are part of two population groups who might be expected to complete the census improperly, or not at all. Residential students at Monmouth College need to be educated about where to call home, and the city’s growing Latino population has concerns, too. It is believed that many will not trust census takers, who will be seen as government officials who could notify authorities about residents with improper documentation.

“With regard to the Latino community, many will feel that the census is an invasive effort to figure out which of them should be deported,” said Ken McMillan, professor of political economy and commerce.

“Migrant communities – especially Latino communities – have historically been undercounted,” said Judi Kessler, associate professor of sociology and anthropology. “This, I suspect, is also the case in Monmouth. Based on information I have, I would guess that our Latino population is twice what was listed on the 2000 census. It’s a continuing problem, both here and nationwide, and I can understand why it’s a problem. Recent immigrants don’t want to talk because they don’t want their undocumented status discovered and passed along to Homeland Security.”

Kessler praised the efforts of local VISTA volunteer Theresa Cabrera, who is a conducting a complete count campaign in the Monmouth community. But she said that more could be done, especially at the organizational level.

“For reasons that interest me a lot, there’s no community-based Mexican-American organization indigenous to this county that can serve as a trustworthy organization and tell them not to worry about completing the census.”

Kessler noted that Galesburg has well-established organizations that represent the Latino population, and the presence of such a group in Monmouth would help combat what is sure to be an issue.

Sandi Beveridge, a Peoria-based partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, said the government is “doing our very best to educate everyone – not just that particular ethnic group – to fill out the census. This will help individuals and communities take advantage of federal programs. Often, some of these groups are the very ones who need that help the most.”

Beveridge praised Monmouth’s efforts to provide “trusted agents” to help with the census count and provide the education and motivation to local residents to participate.

“They can communicate the message better than I can and more credibly,” she said.

The City of Monmouth’s executive administrative assistant, Jan Helms, works closely with Beveridge and Cabrera, and also with two MC interns, seniors Emily Caron of Romeoville and Claudia Gomez of Chicago. Helms, the liaison between the Census Bureau and the city’s Complete Count Committee, said the census process “is really gearing up,” causing her to spend a quarter to half of her time at City Hall doing census-related work.

“It’s terrific that we have them,” said Helms of the college interns. “It’s going to be a big help as we try to get as accurate a count as we possibly can.”

Helms continued, “We’ve known and identified from the beginning that the Latino population is the one we are really going to have to engage to get a completely accurate and beneficial census count. We also know that communicating the confidentiality of the census is key. This is information that doesn’t hurt anyone. For (the next) 72 years, nobody can access specific data from individual respondents.”

When census forms begin arriving in mid-March, Beveridge hopes that most residents will complete and return them within days.

“That’s the most cost-effective way,” she said. “They can complete the census in the privacy of their own homes. The questions are very basic. We’re not asking for Social Security numbers or income or bank numbers. It’s very straightforward – name, address, phone number, age, whether they rent or own their home.”

Beveridge said that if a response is not received, a second census survey will be sent out a few weeks later. Finally, census takers will be sent door-to-door in April to collect missing information. She stressed that completing the census when it is first received not only saves money but also is the most private way to participate and typically results in the most accurate information.

Kessler said her conservative “educated guess is that there are 1,200 or 1,300 residents of Latino background in Warren County. That percentage of the population can make a huge difference in terms of funding in a small town. I would like to see all residents of Warren County be counted, but I can understand why that is unlikely to happen.”

Kessler’s guess is based in part on figures provided by local public school districts. The number of Latino students has grown from 72 in 2000 to 180 at the midpoint of the decade to the most recent figure of 304. Since the Latino student population has quadrupled in the past 10 years, it is not a stretch to believe that the overall number of Latinos in Warren County (which was around 500 at the last census) will have also increased significantly.

Overall, Kessler predicts that Warren County’s 2010 population will show a slight increase from 2000. Going by population trends, she added, the county “would have lost big numbers” if not for the growth of the Latino population.

Helms said that Monmouth’s official population was 9,841 in 2000. However, she said that only 72 percent of the census forms that were mailed out to residents were returned, which was a typical figure nationwide.

“Getting an accurate count is so important to our representation and to dollars coming into the community,” she said.