Black leaders urge participation to ensure a more accurate census

Aim is to prevent repeat of '90 miscount that cost Baltimore funds, services

February 14, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Almost 20,000 African-Americans in Baltimore were not included in the last census, making the city one of the most miscounted places in the nation.

It's census time again, and black leaders don't want a repeat of 1990, when a low head count caused the city to receive less federal money and political representation than it deserved.

"Census is about power -- political power and economic power," Earl Shinhoster, Census 2000 coordinator for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said during a panel discussion last week at Baltimore City Community College. "Any person who wants to be valued as a person should participate."

Uncounted masses

In 1990, the census missed almost 8.4 million people nationwide, the majority of which were children, the poor and blacks.

Baltimore ranked 10th among the major cities that received low head counts, with 23,112 people -- 3 percent of the population -- not recorded. More than 19,500 of the uncounted residents were black, and 11,492 of them were children.

That means the city got less funding than it should have for programs such as child care, Head Start and adult education.

"This year, we want a fair and accurate count," Shinhoster said. "We have to network with everybody in the community to get our representation."

Big official push

The Census Bureau has undertaken a $167 million national advertising campaign to educate people and encourage them to send in their census forms. Since November, it has been spreading the message with billboards and radio, print and television advertisements.

Early next month, letters will be mailed to every home in the nation saying that census forms are en route. By mid-March, the forms should arrive. By late next month, a letter will be sent reminding people to mail the form back by April 1, Census Day.

The Census Bureau's aim is to get a snapshot of where every U.S. resident is living on that day.

The agency plans to dispatch 860,000 temporary workers to visit the homes of people who do not send back the form. They are expected to knock on 40 million doors.

Poor people and minorities often don't return their forms or answer the door to speak with a census worker, acknowledged many on the panel, because they tend to distrust government.

To circumvent that, the Census Bureau is trying to hire workers in every neighborhood to knock on doors in their area.

"We're dealing with people who don't trust us and probably never will," said evangelist Mondrea Jacobs, who is in charge of making sure people in public housing are counted. "We want to make sure they count as a number and as a person."

At the panel discussion, community leaders said they want Baltimore to be off the top 10 list.

"If you're not counted, you don't count," said Carlene Cheatam, chair of the mayor's census outreach committee. "We want everyone to say, `Count me in.' "

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