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Census Bureau to Ramp up Partnerships with Ethnic Media

New America Media, News Report, Khalil Abdullah Posted: Aug 08, 2008

Editors Note: As the Census Bureau gets ready for Census 2010, its looking at ethnic media for help in making sure everyone is counted. But ethnic communities have their concerns about how they fit into the census. Khalil Abdullah is a Washington, D.C., based editor for NAM.

When it comes to under-20-year-olds, minorities are the majority in one in four American counties. Thats according to census figures released Thursday.

Minorities might very well become the majority far earlier than 2050, as predicted by census demographers.

This is why the U.S. Census Bureau charged with counting America's population has decided that the successful execution of that awesome task can only be achieved through collaboration with local communities and the media that serve them.

Census panelThis was the message that Arnold Jackson, associate director for the Decennial Census, and other Bureau staff brought to a New America Media-sponsored convening of Washington, D.C., area ethnic media on July 30.

Jackson explained that Census data is used by the federal government to determine the allocation of $300 billion annually to state, local, and tribal governments, money that assists in funding the construction of schools and roads, for example.

While there are other critical uses for the data, among their most important applications is in the determination of congressional and other legislative districts.

Jackson said the $13 to $14 billion that will be spent on the 2010 Census "is in no way trivial" and that it was his and the bureau's responsibility "to make sure that investment yields the highest return."

A portion of the money will be directed toward hiring the local management and community data collection teams. Fernando Armstrong, regional director of the Philadelphia Regional Office, noted that, for the first time, hand-held computers with GPS capability will be used by census workers in order to confirm and download addresses into the bureau's database. There are already 130 million addresses to which the bureau's short form will be mailed in the spring of 2010. The response to this form and the follow-up work by thousands of temporary workers hired to canvass non-responding addresses yield the Census

Armstrong's region includes Delaware, Maryland, the greater portion of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., geographic areas representing the media which attended the meeting, with the exception of some media who hailed from nearby northern Virginia. The questions put to Armstrong and Jackson could be generally characterized as dealing with three themes: concerns about the confidentiality of information collected by the U.S. government; still lingering issues about how various ethnic groups are classified, and, lastly, whether the bureau will be making significant ad buys in ethnic media to promote the 2010 Census.

To the first issue, Armstrong said the bureau is aware that,especially among some immigrant groups, the collection of personal data "might have other connotations in countries from where they emigrated." Addressing the reluctance to respond is one of the crucial reasons for an alliance with ethnic media, to explain, among other things, that Census data is not shared with other federal agencies, not even with law enforcement. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, would not be privy to information about an address reporting a higher number of residents in a facility than allowed by local ordinances. The media also could be useful in alleviating similar concerns among undocumented immigrants, roughly estimated at 12 million. "We are a not a policymaking organization," Jackson stated. "Our job is to count everybody."

The issue of "race' remains a sticking point for certain populations. Emmanuel Okocha, publisher of America Mi Dream Magazine, a publication with a primarily Nigerian readership, said there is still discomfort and confusion among African immigrants about how to selfidentity on the form. He explained that recent African immigrants do not see themselves as African American, typically defined as descendants from Africans held in captivity in the United States, nor does "black" resonate as a category. One representative of Caribbean media also expressed disappointment with what his community views as the Census form's awkward definition of race. Mohammed Ali, the general manager of Persian Television that serves the Iranian community in the D.C., region, said he had worked with the bureau during the 2000 Census.

Yet, he said, Iranians, being "olive skinned and not Middle Easterners" also sometimes find themselves confounded as to which box to check to explain their "race."

As to the disbursement of revenue among ethnic media to promote and explain the Census, the meeting included representatives from advertising, public relations and marketing firms that have been contracted by the bureau specifically because of their expertise in working with ethnic populations. Bureau representatives said the 2000 Census count is now regarded as having been the best to date, in part due to significant efforts at providing language assistance to an ever-expanding universe of mother tongues in the United States.

Stephen Buckner, from the bureau's public information office, noted,however, that there now exist multiple streams of bureau information that could greatly enhance the capacity of ethnic media. "There are ways we can work with you," Buckner said, urging media attendees to sign up for media notification releases, but especially citing the American Community Survey, which provides a wealth of information useful to reporters.

Another key component for a successful 2010 count will be the utilization of Complete Count Committees comprised of individuals with intimate familiarity of their communities. Sandy Close, New America Media's executive director, encouraged the media present to consider actively participating on those committees. "Maybe that's a message we need to carry to ethnic media across the country," Close said, concurring with the bureau representatives that the census count is ultimately far more than just a function of government.

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