Children's help sought for census

Government hopes to avoid undercount of immigrants, poor

February 14, 2000|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Cabinet officials will fan out to public schools around the country in the next two months as part of an administration plan to enlist children to persuade their immigrant and low-income parents to answer their Census 2000 questionnaires, President Clinton is expected to announce today.

Children accounted for about half the estimated 8.4 million people missed nationally by the census in 1990, an undercount that cost states millions of federal dollars for health care, education, roads, parks and other public services and facilities.

This year, minorities and immigrants are again among those most likely to be missed, and federal, state and local authorities are trying to minimize the undercount.

"Often children were not counted in 1990 because parents were afraid of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and would not list their children," said Maria Echaveste, White House deputy chief of staff. "It's important to get the children to talk to the parents."

About 1 million classrooms, 40 percent of the national total, will participate in the program. Children ranging from preschoolers in Head Start to 12th-graders will get classroom workshops on the census and educational materials to take home to their parents.

Clinton's announcement will come during a speech to a legislative conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a grass-roots civil-rights organization.

The "Census in the Schools Program" is part of a $4.8 billion effort by the government to ensure that the census is as complete as possible. For the first time, the federal program will include paid advertising.

Echaveste said children will be taught in their classrooms that the information gathered by the census remains confidential.

Census forms will be mailed in late March, and the count itself will take place in April.

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