Last chance for census count

Undercount: Enumerators are last chance to make up for tragically low census mail-in response.

April 28, 2000

IF THEY knock at your door, answer it.

Let them in.

Answer the questions they have for you.

The 1,000 enumerators who hit the streets yesterday to follow up on folks who didn't return U.S. Census questionnaires are doing holy work in Baltimore. Treat them well and do what they ask.

These are the people to whom it falls to make sure our census count is right. They're making sure the city gets its due. They're saving Baltimore from Baltimoreans -- only half of whom bothered to return their census forms by the April 11 deadline.

That's pathetic when measured against the 63 percent who returned census forms in 1990; it's even worse when compared to the 68 percent return rate city planners were shooting for this year.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the folks who would benefit most from an accurate census count were the least likely to have returned their forms. In many Baltimore census tracts, fewer than 20 percent of the known households responded to the federal survey.

That includes neighborhoods whose poverty is high enough to get a significant share of the billions that will be doled out over the next 10 years based on the census count. They're neighborhoods that could lose their influence in the General Assembly -- by losing seats -- if the population count isn't accurate.

In 1990, city planners say the count was low by about 3 percent, and that cost Baltimore some $650 million in federal aid over the last decade. If the city ends up with a less accurate count this time, that number could double.

Worse, the city's coffers aren't getting any fatter. Baltimore faces a huge potential deficit in the next five years as a result of its shrinking tax base. An accurate census count could help defray the devastation that shortfall could bring to city programs, neighborhoods and lives.

The enumerators are the only saviors the city has left in this regard. So when they knock at your door, answer it. (This year, they'll even take your information from your front stoop if you're uncomfortable letting them in.) Do what they ask. Give them the information they want.

It's your future they're protecting.

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