Census Kicks Off

Local leaders encourage full participation so the area can get full federal funding.

In Charlotte and around the country Monday, officials formally kicked off the 2010 Census with bipartisan, multicultural rallies that stressed the political and financial benefits at stake.

“The census is absolutely essential to our federal dollars, our state dollars and our local dollars,” Mecklenburg Board of County commissioners Chairman Jennifer Roberts told an uptown crowd. “The process is simple. It’s secure. And it’s significant.”

The rallies were part of the Census Bureau’s $340 million promotional blitz designed to raise awareness of the decennial counting. Officials will launch a “Portrait of America Road Tour” in blue vans stocked with shirts, water bottles and other promotional material.

Vans were on display at rallies from Boston Harbor to Times Square to the Santa Monica Pier. At a chilly gathering at The Square, Roberts and other elected officials joined a Native American in traditional dress and representatives of other minority and ethnic communities in urging people to take part.

“There are 10 questions, it takes 10 minutes, and it makes a difference for your community for 10 years,” said Wayne Hatcher, the Census Bureau’s Charlotte-based regional director.

The survey goes to every household in March. Among other things, it asks for names, gender, age and race. The goal is a snapshot of everybody in America on April 1. Results will be available early next year.

At stake are the number of Carolinas representatives in Congress, and millions of dollars in government spending. Population figures helped steer federal grants of more than $478 billion for Medicaid, highways, housing and other programs in the past fiscal year. Census numbers also determine the shape of local voting districts and budgets.

“It’s so vital to North Carolina and it’s vital to the nation,” said U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Cherryville Republican and ranking member of a House subcommittee that oversees the census. “Every individual gets their representation, whether to the school board or U.S. House, based on the official count.”

Ten years ago, 36 percent of N.C. households failed to respond to census questionnaires. An army of enumerators was deployed to go house to house.

Anticipating a similar response, the Census Bureau has begun to hire 24,000 temporary workers in North Carolina, including more than 4,000 in the Charlotte area. An additional 12,500 will be hired in South Carolina.

Officials are putting a heavy emphasis on counting people who may be wary of giving the government information. Hispanic census workers, for example, have gone on Spanish-language radio to tell immigrants, even those here illegally, that no information will be shared with other agencies.

Based on the census estimates that came out in December, North Carolina would not be among the eight states expected to be awarded additional congressional seats next year. But in a rare display of bipartisanship, McHenry stood alongside Democratic Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte on Monday as both stressed the importance of a final – and full – count.

Watt recalled that North Carolina edged Utah for an extra congressional seat a decade ago. Utah missed getting the seat by fewer than 900 people.

“We’re not trying to game the system,” he said, “but we don’t want to be cheated out of another representative.”