Census: Big Brother Anxieties Could Hurt Count

Census: Big Brother anxieties could hurt count

Associated Press Writer
October 2, 2008 – 11:20pm

NEW YORK (AP) – Fear of the government in some communities after the Sept. 11 attacks and years of debate over immigration policy could create problems in getting an accurate count of the U.S. population in 2010, the director of the Census Bureau said Thursday.

“We have a lot of fear about government intrusion; we have a very contentious debate going on about immigration,” the agency's director, Steve Murdock, told The Associated Press.

To combat people's hesitancy, the bureau will work with local governments and organizations such as churches and community groups to make sure people understand what the census is and that the data won't be shared, Murdock said.

Participation in the nation's count every 10 years is required, but no one has been prosecuted for refusing to respond. Getting an accurate count of everyone who lives in the country is vital because it determines how congressional seats are apportioned and how federal funds are given out, among other things.

“A community that doesn't respond to the census doesn't exist,” said New York City's chief demographer, Joseph Salvo.

To conduct the survey, the Census Bureau sends mailings and then follows up with visits to households that don't respond. It doesn't ask about legal status, but there has been a push to count only American citizens. The 2008 Republican platform includes that point.

Some people, like those in the country illegally, could hesitate to respond to any kind of government query, especially in an atmosphere in which the debate over immigration is extremely heated.

Getting the census done has never been easy, said Margo Anderson, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It's always been affected by current events, including the Civil War, she said.

“Whatever the live controversies are, they will hit the census,” she said. “What we're going to hit now is the immigration debate and the debate on the war on terror. They need to figure out a way to reassure ordinary people _ immigrant or not, legal or not _ that it's OK to fill out a census form.”