Bureau looks for Census participation

The U.S. Census Bureau and Champaign County have banded together to prepare for the 2010 Census.

Agencies ranging from the Urbana-Champaign Housing Committee to the Regional Board of Education have formed the Complete Count Committee in an effort to increase awareness and participation in the 2010 Census, said Andrew Levy, planner analyst for the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.

Levy said the group will work closely with the University and campus area.

“We hope to put out an announcement at a basketball game and other events in the coming months,” he said.

The committee has been formed during the past three censuses and is aiming for a higher initial participation rate this year.

Levy said he would like to see initial participation–the percent of data collected from mailed in forms rather than by door to door collection–at 100 percent. In 2000, however, initial participation hovered around 66 percent in Champaign County.

Volunteers and committee members plan on going door to door to target certain areas of especially low initial participation rates, Levy said.

“Door to door data collection is expensive and time-consuming so the goal is to get 100 percent of people to mail in their forms,” Levy said.

The census has undergone drastic changes. In years past, it contained two forms, a short form and a long form.

The short form asks for basic information such as gender, race and the number of occupants in a home that is used for redistricting, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site. The long form asked questions ranging from the language spoken at home to the amount of time traveled to work, all of which are used for distributing funds.

“Twenty percent completed the short form and 80 percent completed the long form,” said Andrew Isserman, professor of urban and regional planning.

The revised census will exclusively contain the short form, Levy said. It will also feature additional options for questions about race and marital status, Levy added.

Once collected, the census data will affect everyone in the country, at least indirectly.

Politically, the data determines the number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives each state gets as well as how many votes in the Electoral College the state receives, said Brian Gaines, a fellow at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs and professor in political science.

Illinois is expected to lose a congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said Phil Bloomer, spokesman for Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.).

“There will be an increase in the Illinois population but not enough to offset population changes in other states,” Bloomer said. He added that the 15th district, where Johnson serves and where the University resides, would likely remain the same geographically while there will likely be an increase in population.

As a result of population changes, the Illinois General Assembly and Governor will be allowed to “redraw the districts in the state that favor one party or another,” Gaines said.

“In a Congress with a Democratic majority, Democrats will draw a map that will make it harder for Republicans to win elections,” Gaines added.

Data obtained through the census can also help companies or social service organizations target specific parts of the population.

“Census data affects how people perceive a problem,” Isserman said.

The information gained from the census tells social services where the poorer areas in the country are so programs and services can be extended in those areas, he said.

The census will be distributed to households nationally in March 2010 and will be mailed back in April. From there, the data goes to the U.S. Census Bureau, which compiles the information into a report for President Barack Obama by Jan. 1, 2011.