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City, county officials urge residents to cooperate with 2010 Census

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 by Austin Monitor

City and county officials kicked off an effort yesterday to encourage area residents to cooperate with the 2010 federal Census effort, which is set to begin in January. At stake is millions of dollars in federal funding as well as representation in Congress.


Part of the effort is through the Austin Travis County Complete Count Committee, a group of volunteers charged with helping locate people that are more difficult to find and count.


One of the messages from the officials was that participation is easy. County Judge Sam Biscoe explained, “This time it’s just 10 simple questions, in various languages.”


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez told In Fact Daily, “What people envision is an army of folks walking the streets, knocking on their doors, bugging them for information. But really, if you fill out the forms that come in the mail or if you get online and fill out the forms properly, nobody’s going to knock on your door, nobody’s going to call your house, and I think that should be the most critical message up front—that if you voluntarily comply, and you comply appropriately, nobody is ever going to mess with you.”


One member of the committee—which is newly formed and only now going through training—is Susana Almanza of PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources). Almanza reiterated the need to complete census forms, adding that Austin is “way behind other cities in the State of Texas, I’m beginning to find out …we have a lot of catching up to do.”


Austin is not the only city not getting ready for the count early, however. According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trust published in October, only five of 11 large cities studied, had committed their own money to census outreach. That included Houston, which according to the Pew study, experienced a 1.3 percent undercount in 2000, or about 25,000 people uncounted. Other cities were asking non-profits to provide funds to educate the public on the benefits of answering census questions.


But many like Austin are counting on a volunteer effort. Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell noted that the City of Austin had not previously allocated specific resources to getting out the word on the census. “We’re particularly sweat equity partners,” he said, pointing to his aide, Matt Curtis, as one of those who would be doing outreach to the community.


City demographer Ryan Robinson said, “I am very happy to be beginning this now. . . We need to be full on and fully engaged. I would agree with (Almanza) that we wouldn’t have wanted to wait any longer.” However, Robinson said there could be a danger in starting the publicity too early.


Asked for predictions, Robinson said, “I think we’ll get verification that we have diversified enormously in the last 10 years. I think we’ll come in at 36-37 percent Latino, 6 percent Asian, 7 or 8 percent African American—it will be down. So that leaves the non-Hispanic white population at 47-48 percent. We will be a majority minority community. So, it’s going to be very exciting—where will Austin be? Will we be the 15th largest city or the 14th largest city?

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