Cover Story: Census 2010 kickoff

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Census 2010 bus rolls through Charlotte.  It's called the "Portrait of America" Road tour.  The bus will crisscross-cross the state - as well as four other states in the southeast.

The people on board are encouraging people to fill out the census questionnaire in March.  So why participate?

The federal government funds everything we use - our roads, our schools, our hospitals.  By not being counted those federal dollars go to some other state.

We're talking about billions and billions of dollars here.  By one estimate for every 1,000 people not counted in a community that county stands to lose $1.5 million from the federal government.  Over the course of ten years that's $15 million, so Census officials say we have one chance over the next decade to get it right.

"We're in 2010. This is the Census year."

Though the forms won't be in mailboxes for another ten weeks, now that 2010 is here the Census wants to be atop peoples' minds.

On the Square in Center City Monday they officially kicked off the year-long count.

Why the fuss?  Head of the Charlotte Census office Paul Capel says, "The monies that are due us if this count is accurate is enormous. The monies that are lost are also enormous."

Each year when the government goes to divvy up its war chest, $478 billion last year for example, it distributes the money based on population.  Big states like California, Texas and New York get more federal dollars than smaller ones.

But as people have migrated here states like ours-- North and South Carolina ought to receive more federal funding because of population growth, but it can only happen officials say through an accurate head count.

But in an age of identity theft and privacy concerns some are reluctant to fill out the forms.  Even though the questions it asks--name, age, whether you own or rent your home are fairly innocuous.

Immigrant groups in particular are skeptical of the Census.  It's why the Bureau is concentrating on assuring them no one will be deported.  Information won't be shared with the INS.

"It's hard to put the word out when you have too many other organizations.. faith organizations actually.. talking about 'Don't do it. It's not safe.' It's hard," says Cristina LaPaz, the director of Charlotte-based Mi Casa Su Casa.

"People they have an apathy because they don't know how important this one is. That's the reason. we have to educate them," says Dr. Ki-Hyun Chun with the Asian-American Chamber of Commerce

Congress is the other reason for an accurate count for the Carolinas.  North and South Carolina with 13 and 6 House members now could go to 14 and 7 Representatives in the House if our Census counts show gains in population.

Hickory Republican Patrick McHenry says it'll be close for North Carolina.  He says, "It will come down to potentially a few thousand people this year of whether or not we get a 14th seat or not. It makes a huge difference if people respond."

Census forms go out the week of March 15th.

They're encouraging you to take ten minutes fill it out and mail it in.  Otherwise, the Census will send someone to your door.

For every one-percent of the population that doesn't respond, it costs taxpayers $85 million on follow up.

The Census is hiring tens of thousands of temporary workers here in the Carolinas to help get out the head count.

If you're interested the number's on your screen call toll free 1-866 -861-2010 or go to the Census Bureau's jobs web site.