It shouldn’t be a secret that the U.S. Census Bureau is getting ready for the biggest count this country has ever seen.
It spent a small fortune to air a 30-second spot during this year’s Super Bowl Sunday. In Chicago, census workers say they want to make sure the immigrant population is well-represented. And that requires strong local effort.
A January poll by the Pew Research Center showed that one-third of Latinos still haven’t heard of the U.S. Census. The bureau in charge of the annual national population tally says $400 billion of federal money is allocated for government services like schools, hospitals, job training centers and public works projects – census data determines how the money is split up.
Some Latinos, though, fear their personal information would be given to the government. If they’re here illegally, they could be deported. That’s why the Census Bureau partnered with Chicago’s community groups to create Complete Count Committees for this year’s tally.
“”Our partnership efforts are much greater than in 2000,” said Jim Accurso, media specialist at the Chicago Regional Census Center. “There’s at least one Complete Count Committee in every one of Chicago’s 77 community areas.”
The roughly 2,500 committees in the Midwest are made up of government and community leaders. They organize local volunteers to spread the word about the census, and to let people know their information will stay private regardless of their citizenship status. The Census Bureau provides training and promotional materials for volunteers.
Accurso said the main goal of the 2010 committees is to “listen to the trusted voices” – to use well-established ties with local immigrant groups to raise awareness and make sure they send in their questionnaires.
“Talking to your neighbor, your pastor or your local store owner [about the census] – that’s where we’re going with this,” Accurso added.
Nelson Benitez puts this theory into practice every evening. Benitez is coordinator of the New Americans Initiative at the Albany Park Neighborhood Council. He said he knocks on about 150 doors a night.
“I talked with a priest at Our Lady of Mercy Church to spread the census message during mass,” recalled Benitez, who addressed a group of about 500. “When they return home, they will share what they heard about the Census. If 500 people spread the information to another 500, then it’s a good thing.”