Seeking a honest head count: Hudson's officials urge residents to respond to census
In a year in which county, state and federal officials are urging everyone to get themselves counted in the 2000 census, I am embarrassed to report that in my five decades living in the United States, I have never been counted. And since I was not born until 1951, I only have an excuse for the 1950 census. Admittedly, my living in Paterson's Christopher Columbus housing project in 1960 did not help much, since daily muggings on the grounds and in the halls of my building often prevented me from getting to and from school daily, let alone the poor census worker whose visits prompted heckling and worse from residents. Many of the illegal aliens in my neighborhood at the time believed the census workers would turn them into authorities if they revealed their living status. My ill mother opened the door to strangers only reluctantly, generally sending everyone away. In 1970, I was much too busy wandering the county in my red, white and blue VW bus, more interested in stopping the Vietnam War than stopping to get myself counted. My drifting from place to place made it always impossible for a census-taker to catch up with me, and over the subsequent decades my excuses grew even less substantial. In a press conference held in the newly-renovated maternity wing of St. Mary's hospital in Hoboken on March 31, county, state and federal officials pleaded with the public to get themselves counted, claiming that for every person missed, local government loses as much as $10,000 in its share of federal revenues. While the U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken every 10 years, the demographic information is used by everyone from businesses to the government itself, and determines everything from how many representatives each part of the county gets in Washington D.C. and various state houses. Local officials, however, are careful to say that no individual information is divulged to anyone. Fearful illegals often come from political cultures where talking to the government often leads to trouble, and much of the campaign is designed to convince them that America is different. "No one gets this information," said Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski. "Not the FBI, not the CIA, not the INS, no one." Janiszewski said the U.S. Census Bureau takes confidentiality to heart. Census officials claim the information is reported to no other agency, and the data compiled goes towards determining where money for senior citizens or the host of other programs should be allocated. An honest head count
Hudson County officials are particularly vigilant in their pursuit of what they call "an honest head count" because an alleged undercounting in the 1990 Census of people in urban areas resulted in a drastic shift of federal funding sorely needed by poor and other groups. That year, the undercount reached an all-time high, with more than 16 million people missed or about 6 percent of the nation's total. More 10 million of these were children. The Population Resource Center Project of Princeton estimated that Jersey City was undercounted in the 1990 census by as many as 8,000 people about 4 percent well above the state average which was less than a half percent. In Hudson County, the 1990 census missed about 16,200 people, according to this same report, or about 2.8 percent. This resulted in an estimated loss of $189 million in various forms of aid. The 1990 census missed almost 5 percent of the state's Latino population and nearly 5.5 percent of the state's African Americans. Congressman Bob Menendez said Hudson County ranks as 24th in a list of metropolitan areas in the country to lose federal money as a result of an undercount in the 2000 Census. A study prepared for the U.S. Census Monitoring Board claims an undercount similar to the one made in 1990 could cost 26 states and Washington D.C. $9.1 billion. "We have seen the impact of the 1990 undercount," Menendez said. "Children and minorities were disproportionately undercounted and did not receive fair representation, and communities most in need lost federal funding for health care, education, housing and senior programs." New Jersey already has one of the most diverse populations in the county, according to experts, with Hudson County one of the leading centers for immigration - which may account for three of our every four new residents by the year 2025. The 2000 Census, federal officials say, will describe the nation and the communities that governments serve: who lives here, where they live, how they are housed, and their social needs. It is a tool that will be used for planning and allocating billions of federal and state dollars. The Census 2000 will also determine how political power is apportioned throughout New Jersey. Pitching the count
Janiszewski, along with Sal Vega, the chairman of the Hudson County Freeholders, Assemblywoman Joan Quigley and Census Bureau Representative Ervin Washington toured the new maternity ward, brought gifts for the new mothers and stressed the importance of filing out the census forms Although the official deadline for mailing forms back was March 31, residents throughout the county can still send them in, avoiding the house-to-house effort which is the next step in the process of counting heads in America. In the press conference held at the newly-reconstructed maternity ward, officials attempted to remind people that no one is too young or too old to be counted. "The youngest among us, the oldest amongst us, the disabled, the immigrants legal or illegal..." Janiszewski said. With posters up on the wall behind them that helped get the message across that even illegal aliens need not fear talking to census workers. As of early April, workers have taken to the streets to find people to count, asking them to file one of two forms. "Hudson County has adopted a rigorous education campaign to make sure our residents know what's at stake here," Janiszewski said. "We simply cannot afford to lose hundreds of millions of dollars again. It is everyone's responsibility to stand up and be counted so we get the money we deserve for our schools, businesses and neighborhoods, and to make sure the young and old are counted." Vega said people should not be afraid to fill out the forms, whether they are citizens, legal or illegal aliens. "In my district in West New York, we're trying to find out from people what people are living around them, so that we can get the proper count," he said. "We are going to have an aggressive door to door campaign. But this is not to find out who is legal or illegal, but to make sure all people in this area get their fair share of the money that is due them." Still a little time
Pascual Perez, manager of the North Hudson Census office, said Census 2000 has set up "To Be Counted Centers" throughout the 10 communities in North Hudson. Union City is considered the most densely populated city in the nation. Perez said most people in North Hudson were issued a short Census form, although about one out of six households got a longer version. The forms have come under fire for asking very personal questions, while other critics claim they are confusing. Some questions include how people heat their homes and whether or not disabled people have others caring for them. When Perez' workers hit the streets on April 1, they found some disturbing news. "We found many people didn't get the form," he said. Although forms are being made available in six or seven languages to accommodate the diverse population in the area, some of those interviewed had a difficulty understanding. "We're telling people can send in their forms until April 11 to avoid someone coming around to the homes," he said. "People don't know how to fill the forms or if they did not received them they should come to the center where we will have people to help them fill out the forms." After April 11, Census workers will begin going door to door to seek out those who did not submit a form.