Census takers canvassing a year ahead of count
Residents who see a stranger in their neighborhood scrolling through a hand-held device and toting a bag with the words “U.S. Census Bureau” emblazoned on it do not need to call the police. It is just an employee double-checking the bureau’s address list ahead of the official census, to be taken next year.
The workers officially began roaming neighborhoods throughout the nation April 6, although some areas began in late March.
“What we’re doing now is updating our address list, our mailing list,” said Pamela Page-Bellis, the U.S. Census Bureau’s senior media specialist for Florida.
The census workers may ask residents to verify the address or about other living structures on a given property, but will never ask for personal information.
“We will never ask if you are a legal resident, we will never ask for your Social Security number, we will never ask for any bank information,” she said.
Although there have been no reports of people impersonating census workers to glean personal information from residents, the workers have caused a stir in some areas.
“We have some incidents where people have called 911 because those people are holding a hand-held device and walking around their neighborhood,” Page-Bellis said.
There are currently nine early local census offices in Florida. The number is planned to rise to about 35 before the census is conducted in March 2010.
Fort Myers and Punta Gorda are among the cities the Census Bureau is eyeing for additional offices. That is good news for the unemployment-plagued areas, as the offices will be staffed by about 1,000 people per office.
The census, called for every 10th year in the Constitution, carries high political stakes. About $300 billion in federal money is allocated based on census data, Page-Bellis said. Florida, the fourth most populous state according to the 2000 U.S. Census, could pick up another seat in the House of Representatives if there is a significant increase in its population.
Given Florida’s large Hispanic population, many are concerned the state’s true population numbers will not be reflected in the final count.
“They’re worried they’re going to be undercounted because historically they have been undercounted,” she said.
The Census Bureau is taking steps to combat that trend, Page-Bellis added.
“We work with community organizations, churches and faith-based organizations that can help us reach deep into these communities,” she said.