My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘bilingual’

Are 13.5 million bilingual forms enough for America?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

In the below report, the AP discusses the ongoing efforts of the Census Bureau to integrate bilingual measures into the decennial headcount. However, as we wrote yesterday, many government leaders in California feel that these efforts don’t go far enough to reach the millions of Americans who don’t speak English:

LONG BEACH, Calif. — When Teresa Ocampo opens her census questionnaire, she won’t have to worry about navigating another document in English.

The 40-year old housewife who only speaks basic English will be able to fill hers out in Spanish — which is exactly what U.S. officials were banking on when they decided to mail out millions of bilingual questionnaires next year.

For the first time, the decennial census will be distributed in the two languages to 13.5 million households in predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. Latino advocates hope the forms will lead to a more accurate count by winning over the trust of immigrants who are often wary of government and may be even more fearful after the recent surge in immigration raids and deportations.

“If the government is reaching out to you in a language you understand, it helps build trust,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “I think the community has become really sensitive to political developments, and the census is the next step in this movement that we’re seeing of civic engagement in the Latino community.”

Traditionally, experts say, the Census Bureau has undercounted minority and immigrant communities, who are harder to reach because of language barriers and distrust of government.

Latino advocates hope the bilingual forms will help show their strength in numbers to underscore their growing political influence and garner more in federal funds that are determined by population.

Census officials say they designed the bilingual forms after extensive research, using the Canadian census questionnaire as an example. Over a six-year testing period, officials said the forms drew a better response in Spanish-speaking areas.

The bilingual forms will be mailed out to neighborhoods where at least a fifth of households report speaking primarily Spanish and little English, said Adrienne Oneto, assistant division chief for content and outreach at the Census Bureau in Washington. The cost of preparing and mailing the bilingual questionnaires is about $26 million, which is more than it would have cost to send only English forms.

More than a quarter of the forms will be distributed in California from Fresno to the Mexican border, with Los Angeles County topping the list. The Miami and Houston areas will also receive sizable numbers of the questionnaires.

Automatic mailing of the bilingual forms debuts in 2010. In addition to Spanish, census forms will be made available in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian upon request. That’s similar to the 2000 census, when participants could request questionnaires in several languages.

But none of those other languages compares to the proliferation of Spanish. Roughly 34 million people reported speaking Spanish at home in the United States in 2007, more than all the other languages combined except English. Eighty percent of the U.S. population reported speaking only English at home.

The question is whether the bilingual forms will help overcome immigrant fears of federal authorities after seeing friends and family swept up in immigration raids over the last few years. While census data is confidential, many immigrants are wary of any interaction with the government.

“It is a difficult time for immigrants and I could see where there might be concern where being counted might lead to future negative consequences,” said Clara E. Rodriguez, professor of sociology at Fordham University in New York.

There are also concerns that the recession has dried up funding used to encourage people to fill out their census forms.

California, for example, pumped $24.7 million in 2000 into efforts to boost the state’s count but has only $2 million budgeted for the upcoming year, said Ditas Katague, the state’s 2010 census director.

The Census Bureau has worked with Spanish-language TV giant Telemundo to help get the word out. The network’s telenovela “Mas Sabe el Diablo” (The Devil Knows Best) will feature a character who applies to be a census worker.

Adding to the challenge of getting more people to participate is a boycott of the census called by Latino Christian leaders. They want illegal immigrants to abstain from filling out the forms to pressure communities that depend on their numbers to support immigration reform.

Census officials say they don’t expect a backlash from English speakers because those likely to receive bilingual forms are used to hearing the two languages side by side.

Los Angeles Times: Census Outreach Is Critical In L.A. County

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Some news from the City of Angels (click HERE for full article) – it’s too bad the LA Times’ new web site looks like it was built for a high school newspaper:

By Teresa Watanabe

With sprawling enclaves of immigrants, crowded housing conditions and pockets of deep poverty, Los Angeles is regarded as the nation’s most difficult county for census-takers to count.

But as they gear up for the decennial census beginning in April, officials are beefing up efforts to reach the region’s far-flung polyglot communities with more community outreach staff and language assistance, including a first-ever bilingual English-Spanish census form.

At a meeting last week in downtown Los Angeles, U.S. census officials met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, dozens of community activists, nonprofit leaders and state and local government representatives to craft strategies on how to reach the 4.4 million people who live in “hard-to-count” neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.

Census officials give that designation to areas where residents traditionally have low rates of census participation, including immigrants with limited English, African Americans and other minority groups, the poor, the less educated and those who live in crowded housing.

Los Angeles County’s hard-to-count population dwarfs those in all other U.S. counties and is concentrated in the city’s central core, from Sunset Boulevard to Imperial Highway, the Terminal Island area and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

Officials fear funding shortages and mistrust toward the government among many immigrants could result in an undercount with enormous consequences for California: the possible loss of a U.S. congressional seat for the first time in state history and the loss of billions of dollars of federal funding for schools and other services.

Congressional seats and more than $300 billion in federal funding for more than 170 programs are apportioned by population, as determined by the census. By some estimates, each person counted results in $12,000 in federal funds over a decade.

“This is the most important census in California history,” said Ditas Katague, state census director.

Fueling the worries about an undercount next year is a sizable drop in state funding for outreach efforts: $3 million for next year, compared with $24.7 million in 2000.

James T. Christy, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Los Angeles regional director, said the federal government has stepped in with some increased funding. It has expanded the number of Los Angeles community outreach staff to more than 350 people from 50 in 2000 and is offering informational guides in 59 languages, an increase of more than 20%. The new languages include Polish, Russian and Arabic. In addition, Russian has been added to the telephone assistance system, which also operates in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

Nonprofit organizations have also tried to fill the gap. The California Endowment, which sponsored the census forum, announced last week that it would provide $4 million for statewide outreach, and the California Community Foundation had earlier announced grants of $1.5 million.

But Christy said the financial woes remain worrisome. “Community-based organizations don’t have the funding to tack on a census message,” he said.

Christy also said that next year’s census, the first since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, could be met with suspicion from minorities who may be wary of government intrusion into their lives. He said the Justice Department had assured the bureau that the Patriot Act, which gave law enforcement broader access to personal information for counter-terrorism investigations, could not be used to force the surrender of any census information. The U.S. Supreme Court has also ruled that census information must remain confidential, he said.

“No one can get access to census data,” Christy said. “It is rock solid secure.”

To address such concerns, census officials are expanding their outreach staff and dispatching “complete count” committees made up of local government officials and community members. Committees have been formed by Cambodians, Koreans, Filipinos and Sikhs, among others. Officials are pitching the census as “safe, easy and important,” noting that the form’s 10 questions will not ask for Social Security numbers or legal status.

Editorial Series Part 3: Problems with U.S. Census Bureau Hiring Practices

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Problem 3: In its hiring practices, the Census Bureau discriminates against people who live in certain areas, particularly within urban municipalities.

There is an applicant for a census job whom we will call Jane. Jane lives in San Francisco and speaks English, Spanish, and French fluently. She is 30 years old, has a Ph.D. in Demography from Princeton, the ability to work 40 hours per week, a perfect score on the census test, and no criminal record. However, the Census Bureau did not hire her.

Why? Jane lives in Inner Richmond, a neighborhood that has a large Mandarin-speaking population. Her other qualifications are outweighed by the Census Bureau’s computer database by the fact that she doesn’t speak Mandarin. Even worse, even though she lives just three miles from The Mission, a neighborhood where Spanish is the predominant language, there is another applicant with a lower test score, who hasn’t even graduated from high school, who lives within the borders of The Mission and will get the job instead of Jane.

In San Francisco, a less qualified applicant who lives within a neighborhood boundary would be hired instead of someone who is much more qualified who lives a mere three miles away.. Differences of a few miles should not be factored in to the hiring process, as Census Bureau employees in rural areas are asked to commute dozens of miles to and from work.

By not hiring individuals who have the best test scores and other qualifications, the Census Bureau fails to hire the most qualified applicants; those can likely provide the most accurate decennial headcount.

Census Problems in Eastern Washington

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

In Washington state, a lack of bilingual census employees is the root of some of the first reported 2010 Census problems. From KNDO/KNDU in Tri-Cities, Washington:

KENNEWICK, Wash.– The country is less than a year away from Census Day 2010, a day where every household counts.

“We need to count everybody in the communities which concerns citizens and non citizens both,” said Brian Kennedy, Manager at the Spokane Census Bureau Office.

Kennedy says the question of citizenship will be asked, and they’re trying their best to find ways to get more accurate numbers.

Census staff say right now they’re trying to hire more bilingual recruiters primarily in Spanish. They also want to hire more people who live in hard-to-count communities like East Pasco.

“So that when somebody knocks on these people’s door, that are maybe hesitant to talk to the government, they have somebody from their community to speak their language and ask the questions,” said Kennedy.

Gloria Ochoa, an attorney in Kennewick, says it’s the fear of deportation that keeps immigrants from speaking up.

“Once you start asking someone whether or not they’re a citizen they’re automatic response is ‘they’re researching me to find out whether or not I’m undocumented’,” said Ochoa.

Ochoa comes from a family of immigrants and says it wasn’t until 1986 that her parents became citizens.

“My parents had been deported on two occasions that I can personally recall when they were working in a tomato field, and they left us with a babysitter,” said Ochoa.

But in spite of people’s fear the census bureau says they’re not turning anyone in, just counting. They say it’s very important everyone is counted, especially since it’s a way for the government to measure how much money to give back to each community.

Census staff say some of the toughest people to count in our area are Hispanic and Russian.