Editorials

Visit from census worker isn't trivial; it's valuable work

The 2010 census isn't over just quite yet.

While the thorough canvassing of households and census data gathering occurred this past spring, the U.S. Census Bureau is in the midst of a quality assurance program to make sure that census workers got it right the first time.

“As survey researchers, we know human error is possible, and we work hard to eliminate detectable errors,” said Robert Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

The operations under way this summer include:

 • Interview 5 percent of the households where a census taker made an in-person visit to gather the census information earlier this year.

 • Confirm housing units that were classified as vacant or nonexistent and visit new housing units that were added after the 2010 census form was sent out.

 • Verify in the field duplicate addresses and call households to clarify inconsistent answers provided on the 2010 census form about the number of people living at an address.

It means thousands of households in Southwest Washington will have another contact with a census worker this summer.

Unfortunately, some residents take offense to the census and take out their displeasure and anger on the census takers. Census Bureau officials working in Southwest Washington said verbal abuse of census workers has cropped up the most in the Olympia area.

To date, the abuse has been verbal, not physical. But the harassment has been bad enough to cause some veteran census workers to reconsider whether the job is worth it, said Cecilia Sorci, a Seattle-based U.S. Census Bureau official.

That’s disturbing. How difficult is it to be civil to these census officials who take a few minutes to ask a few questions? This is not enough of an intrusion into your privacy to warrant threatening and rude remarks.

This does not qualify as a case of Big Brother snooping into your affairs. As in the case with all other 2010 census operations, census workers will not ask for Social Security numbers, bank account information or credit card information. Census workers also won’t solicit donations, contact you by e-mail, ask about your citizenship status or share the data with other government agencies.

They’re simply trying to get an accurate picture of every household in the country, gathering information about the age, sex and race of the American population.

The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution to take place every 10 years. While the questions have varied and expanded over the years, they are nothing reasonable people should find offensive. In fact, the census was pared down from a booklet in 2000 to just 10 questions this year.

Census data determines boundaries for congressional districts and state and local legislative districts.

More than $400 billion in federal funds are distributed annually based on census data. The money is used to pay for local programs and services, including schools, highways, emergency services, hospitals, unemployment benefits and much more.

An estimated 3.4 million people went uncounted 10 years ago for a variety of reasons. Because of that, studies have shown that the District of Columbia and 13 states will lose a total of $4.1 billion in federal funding between 2002 and 2012. California alone is losing $1.5 billion, primarily because of its large population of illegal immigrants.

Clearly, a state with an under—reported population pays a considerable financial consequence, and runs the risk of losing seats in Congress.

It’s entirely appropriate for someone visited by a census worker to ask that they properly identify themselves.

But its not acceptable to badger and bully census workers who are just trying to do their jobs.

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