The Census Bureau wants to make sure Brooklyn counts.
This week, the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a census hearing at Borough Hall, focusing on improving participation and data collection.
According to Robert Goldenhoff, Director of Strategic Issues at the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an accurate and thorough Census collection is important because the data helps deliver billions of dollars in government services and re-organize federal, state and local voting districts. An incorrect or incomplete survey could keep Brooklyn from “receiving its fair share of aid,” Goldenhoff said. Last census year, Kings County earned the 14th worst undercount rating nation-wide.
Brooklyn’s diversity makes the borough particularly difficulty to cover,though, said Robert Groves, executive director of the Census Bureau. Grovesplans to create local centers to help counter the problem. The staff of these information collection hubs, Questionnaire Assistance Centers, speak 59 languages, and the Census Bureau plans to send staff with knowledge of foreign cultures and languages to neighborhoods that require their specific skills.
Another area that makes collecting census data difficult concerns immigrants. According to Groves, many immigrants believe the Census will forward their information to law enforcement agencies, though he pointed out that it’s actually illegal for the bureau to release private information such as names, addresses and telephone numbers.
“There are very strong laws to protect their information,” said Grove, adding that they carry a maximum five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $250,000.
Couples living together also should not be discouraged from participatingin the Census. Congressman Edolphus Towns, who co-chaired the meeting, believes that many young people who marry before moving out of their parents’ house don’t participate in the Census because they’re worried that their marital status, or lack thereof, will affect their ability to continue living there.
Towns also noted during the hearing that the Census Bureaus’ latest computer programs have shown difficulty in recognizing residents who choose not to respond to the survey, though Groves said that the organization will still be able to collect data as long as the program’s “core functions” are operational.
“Even if the technology isn’t operating, we did these tasks manually in the past,” he said.
Beyond the technology, Groves and Goldenhoff stressed that Census takers have to take responsibility of the process as well.
“Each percentage point increase in the mail response rate saves taxpayers around $85 million and yields more accurate data,” said Goldenhoff.
For more information on the 2010 Census, go to www.census.gov.