Friday, March 24, 2000

Census has good start, locals say

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Local census officials say the Tristate's count is going well so far, although there is no hard evidence yet to support their confidence.

        U.S. Census Bureau officials said Thursday that based on anecdotal impressions, it appears the nation's once-a-decade count is pro ceeding as planned.

        “It's too early to tell, but I think the citizens here are doing exceptionally well,” said Mary Groen, local census office manager for Cincinnati.

        J. Paul Wyatt, a national spokesman for the census bureau, said “we're in the mail phase now ... and

        waiting to see what the mail-back response will be.”

        Americans, who earlier this month began receiving census forms, are urged to return them by April 1.

        Mr. Wyatt said bureau officials will be able to make a final mail-response assessment by April 11.

        Beginning next week, census forms will be made available to the general public at various “Be Counted'' sites — at participating stores and local government offices — to reach those who might not have had a questionnaire mailed to their residence.

        For those who received but did not fill out a census form, or those they did not answer all questions, they can expect a telephone call or knock at their door between April 27 and July 7.

        U.S. Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said that as of Tuesday, 7.3 million questionnaires had been processed nationwide. Forms were mailed to more than 119 million households in the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

        Marc Bergman, local census office manager for Covington, said there are no local response numbers available yet, but “we think we're in OK shape.”

        Mr. Bergman, whose office is responsible for counting 16 counties in northern and central Kentucky, credits the bureau's $170 million national advertising campaign for the census' apparently smooth start.

        “It's still kind of early to tell but no big problems so far,” he said.

        Not everyone is so impressed with the census, however.

        Nancy Detrick of Symmes Township complained that the “long form” — which numbers 39 pages — is too complicated and intrusive.

        “I don't mind being contacted and there are certainly some questions I don't mind being asked. But this has gotten way beyond that,” said Ms. Detrick, who said the long form took two hours to complete, not 38 minutes as census officials estimated.

        “They ask about all your income ... your job. They ask about the annual cost of your utilities so you have to review your records,” she said.

        “It's the general principle of the thing. It's just nobody's business.”

        Ms. Groen said she has heard some complaints similar to Ms. Detrick's, but reminds those taking such a stance that “every question has a purpose ... and every question on the census had to first be approved by Congress.”

        “All the information is confidential,” Ms. Groen said.

        A bigger concern for her Cincinnati census office is recruiting temporary workers to make phone calls and go door-to-door starting next month to count those who did not mail back their census forms.

        “We're 30 percent below where we need to be. It could be crippling,” she said.

        In response, the local census office has raised its hourly rate of pay to $13.75 from $12.75 in hopes of attracting more workers.


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