One, two, three, go – It’s census time

OLYMPIA - Local, state and federal officials held a grand opening ceremony for the U.S. Census Bureau's local office on the city's west side Monday, as census employees prepared to begin distributing census forms this week.

It’s time again for the federal census, which takes place every 10 years. More than just counting residents, data from the census is used for issues such as determining congressional districts and eligibility for federal aid. Census officials said repeatedly they hope to count everybody.

“Census means money and power,” said Jacqueline Bowens, manager for the local office. “By being counted, you’re standing up for what your community’s needs are.”

Bowens said census employees will begin distributing census forms to people on rural routes and other more remote areas this week. Census forms will begin arriving in the mail after about March 17, and people are to report information about their families as it exists on April 1.

The form itself asks 10 simple questions. It asks people to provide how many people are living in a household, how do people identify their race and what type of housing they live in.

There’s no “long form” this year as in the 2000 census – a significantly longer form that was sent to a sample of residents.

“It’s fairly easy,” Bowens said, adding there’s no financial, Social Security or banking information asked for.

Census takers will go door to door to count people who don’t return the forms starting in May, Bowens said.

The census is a tradition that dates to 1790, and is required by the U.S. Constitution.

Bowens said Olympia’s census office, at 221 Kenyon St. N.W., has about 60 staffers now and covers seven counties — Thurston, Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark, Skamania, Wahkiakum and Pacific. And the census bureau is hiring hundreds more to count in Washington, Bowens said.

“It’s a difficult job to go to a person’s door and ask difficult questions,” she said. But it pays $13.25 an hour, she said, and mileage, training and travel expenses are covered.

An initial tally of the census is due to President Barack Obama by the end of the year. In another two to three years, more detailed demographic data will be available to the public.

“It’s a celebration of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going,” said Michael Berry, U.S. Census Area Manager.