U.S. Census Bureau delays in distributing informational materials are hurting efforts to achieve a more complete 1990 census count among hard-to-reach minority populations, the head of a House subcommittee and community groups say.
Success of the census is heavily dependent on 110 informational products the Census Bureau promised to distribute by mid-January, said Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer (D-Ohio), chairman of the House subcommittee on census and population.
To date, however, more than half of the items, which include brochures, posters and videos in various languages, still have not been received by census workers nationally for distribution to community organizations.
"There is genuine cause for concern," Sawyer said. With census questionnaires scheduled to be mailed to all U.S. households in two months, he said: "There are real and practical limits to how much you can cram in a period of time and make it stick, be believable and reach a certain number of people."
Barbara Bryant, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, admitted that the bureau has fallen behind its original schedule in providing materials to the public, but she said this has not increased the possibility of an undercount.
"I don't think anything is lagging in a destructive way," Bryant said. "There are some things that are a few weeks off deadline, and we will try to move them out as fast as we can. This will still allow for plenty of time to inform the public."
Every 10 years, the Census Bureau tallies the nation's population to apportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. But the statistics also translate into dollars for cities and states because the population figures are used in the distribution of billions in federal funds.
California and cities that have grown rapidly in the last decade share a big stake in getting greater cooperation from those groups that traditionally do not respond to the census. These include illegal immigrants, those who do not read English, the poor and the homeless.
According to testimony during a state Senate subcommittee hearing last August, California stands to lose an estimated $683 million in the next 10 years if the 1980 undercount--3% statewide--is repeated.
Nationally, the Census Bureau said the 1980 census did not count 1.4% of the population; among blacks and Latinos the figure was 5.9%. In the city of Los Angeles, an estimated 4.6% of the general population was not counted in 1980, as well as 9% of blacks, 7% of Latinos and 4% of Asians.
Referring to the 1980 undercount, Arturo Vargas, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, "If they (census officials) don't shape up their act, we face a worse undercount than in 1980." Vargas, based in Los Angeles, is national census program director for MALDEF.
Minority group organizations in California and nationally said one of their primary goals is to erase the fear some people have of responding to the census.
"The folks most likely to fear the census are the ones hardest to reach," Vargas said Monday. "When you cut down the time to reach them, it cuts down the effectiveness."
"People are scared of being deported if they respond. They are scared of being taken off welfare. They are scared they will be audited by the IRS," said Reina Ornelas, a census awareness specialist with the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Census Bureau.
Minorities need to be assured that the Census Bureau is bound by law to keep information about individuals and families confidential, Vargas said. The bureau's informational materials are vital to getting out this message, representatives of black, Asian and Latino groups said.
"If that fragile confidence, trust and sense of importance of the census is not in place in time, participation of the census will suffer," Sawyer said in a telephone interview from Akron, Ohio.
MALDEF and Sawyer both sent letters a month ago to Bryant, who became director of the bureau on Dec. 7, asking her to speed up the distribution of materials.
Henry Der, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action in San Francisco, also said he was dismayed by the lack of early census educational material. "It's weird," he said. "We can sit around the table with census officials and get an agreement on how to eradicate an undercount. But when it comes right down to it, the resources from the Census Bureau just aren't there."
John Reeder, regional census director in Los Angeles, said he is also concerned that a significant undercount will occur in this year's census. "The circumstances of society are different. There are more refugees, drugs. There could be a greater undercount" than in 1980, he said, citing poverty and homelessness as deterrents to a complete census count.
Census Director Bryant said the bureau intends to release the bulk of the materials in about three weeks when her agency wants publicity to be at its highest. "You run the risk of having the promotional campaign peak too early if you put out the materials too early," she said.