Cover Story: Census counting

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - An effort underway to boost participation in the U.S. Census.  Why so early?  Because for the last 40 years response to the Census questionaires has been declining.. and this time around some groups are pushing for illegal immigrants to boycott the Census.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson has more in our Cover Story.

When the U.S. Census opened its Charlotte office eight months ago and said it was hiring workers to help conduct the once-every-ten-year head count.. they were overwhelmed with applicants.

Now the real work's begun.. they're trying to capitalize on that fervor.

"It's important that everyone gets counted."

Since the Charlotte region is one of the fastest growing in the country.. with people moving here from other places.. interest in the Census here is particularly high..

Federal dollars are distributed according to population counts.. and so are the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.. North Carolina and South Carolina could each wind up getting an additional member of Congress.. which means more money from Uncle Sam.

So Charlotte and both states are on a campaign to make sure everyone living here is counted.. whether a U.S. citizen or not..

Since illegal immigrants can access some federal government services like schools and hospitals.. Paul Capel head of the Charlotte Census office says they need to be counted too.

He says, "Whether people are legal or illegal we need to be counted because if there's services being rendered we certainly need to be reimbursed for our state of North Carolina."

But some Latino community leaders who've been active in past protests are calling for illegal immigrants to boycott the Census in 2010.

They're not alone.

64 percent of the U.S. population responded to the Census questionaire in 2000.. Census officials are hoping for a better return this time.  Which is why they're trying to get out the word about how the community benefits and allay any fears about privacy.

The questionaire this time runs just 10 questions long.. and is not as intrusive as years past.

Capel says, "If we can bring new roads, schools, jobs, new representation we want that for our state. So it's important that everyone participate in it and be counted. It's a civic duty."

The U.S. Constitution requires the country do a census every ten years.. the first was in 1790 conducted by U.S. marshals on horseback.

This year they're using GPS.. and spending 14-billion to do the head count.

Are local leaders worried about an undercount?  Maybe not worried, but determined to get it right.

Thursday, leaders from Charlotte's business, non-profit, education and faith communities met for the first time in a group they're calling the "Complete Count Committee"

The first of an effort to boost Census participation in Charlotte.

Census questionaires will be arriving in mailboxes in February and March 2010.