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| Human World on Apr 26, 2010

How does U.S. Census count the homeless and undocumented immigrants?

How does the 2010 U.S. Census count homeless people and immigrants who might be afraid of being deported?

EarthSky got a question about the 2010 U.S. Census from Facebook friend, Diana de la Llata. She asked: “How does the Census count homeless people and immigrants who might be afraid of being deported?” To find out, we asked Mark Mather, Associate Vice President of the Population Reference Bureau. He told us how census workers count people who are homeless.

Mark Mather: The main method is to go out to shelters and to the people who are providing services to the homeless in order to collect information about the homeless population. They also go out to designated street locations and try to count people who are living on the street. And for those who they don’t identify in designated locations, they have places called “Be Counted” centers to try to get people to come in and fill out their form.

To encourage undocumented immigrants to respond to the census, Mather said, the Census Bureau uses TV, radio and billboard messages, and enlists the help of community organizations to let people know that responding to the census won’t get them in trouble.

Mark Mather: They’re not going to use people’s information in any way except for reporting the summary data. The information is completely confidential.

And for people living in the U.S. who don’t speak English, Mather said, there are census forms in five other languages, and assistance guides are available in 59 languages. While mailing back the U.S. census benefits residents when resources are divided between regions, Mather explained that turning in the forms also saves taxpayers money.

Mark Mather: In 2000 they had an initial mail response rate of about 67% – that’s the percentage of households that initially mailed back their census form. For every one percentage point drop in that mail response rate it costs the Census Bureau up to 90 million dollars to track down all the non-responding households. They either have to contact them by phone or go knock on their door to try to collect their information.

When the first census was taken in 1790 the United States population was just shy of 4 million. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson directed this first count, which was used to determine Congressional representation for the original states.