Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Census: Important to fill out; important to fix

From the Daily Journal...

JOHN OXFORD: Census: Important to fill out - and to fix in the future

Today, enumerators throughout the United States will begin knocking on doors to count those who have not returned their census forms or didn't receive one. It is time-honored tradition where every 10 years we count how many people live in this great country of ours.

You may not be aware that the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to carry out the census in "such manner as they shall by Law direct" (Article I, Section 2). The Founders of our fledgling nation had a bold and ambitious plan to empower the people over their new government. The plan was to count every person living in the newly created United States of America, and to use that count to determine representation in the Congress. All this comes directly from the census bureau.

In addition, according to the census website, the 2010 questionnaire is one of the shortest in history, and comes very close to the length and scope of inquiries asked in 1790.

Fair enough. We should support the census and give what information we feel comfortable giving to the government. After all, census information is used to decide everything from how many members of congress our state has to how electoral districts are drawn up and how certain criteria is measured for various federal funding and grants.

The issue we should have is not with the census itself, but with the sad fact that not only does it come close to the length and scope of inquiries asked in 1790 as mentioned above, it is probably not too far off from operating the same way as well.

Too often our government forgets that we are investors in it, and never is there a more poorly run business model than the census. There is not sufficient room is this column to thoroughly address the waste and misuse of taxpayer funds in the census process, but let's hit the highlights.

The census is estimated to cost the American taxpayers $14.7 billion according to the Department of Commerce. And thus far it is $88 million over budget, and officials are saying that there may not be a way to really know how much it will cost in the end. NASA's budget is only $17.6 billion - so if the census continues to over run its projected budget maybe it will be enough to take us all into space.

If the cost is not enough to make you sick, the process is even worse. How many mail pieces are we going to receive? A letter telling us about the census, a post card reminder, the actual census forms, follow-up letters and more?

All of this mail does not reveal the tip of the iceberg in costs. The census will hire an estimated one million people to canvass neighborhoods and city streets. Don't fault people for taking advantage of this in an economic downturn; fault the leadership in Washington for running a sorry operation. Any jobs report this year is not credible because it has one million jobs that are prefabricated make-work "opportunities".

In addition, we have the $340 million ad campaign. Our government bought a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl for a couple of million dollars. What a waste. Not to mention all the radio, print and other advertisements. And in all honesty, the ads were not even that good.

The business model has got to change. Here are a couple of quick and simple ideas to reform this $14.7 billion mess that I'm sure some government-basement-dwelling bureaucrat will shoot down to save their make-work "jobs."

We should allow the crossing of government agencies in the census process to have the IRS to make an addendum to our tax forms every 10 years. The government already has most of the census information due to filing choices and things like the child tax credit. How easy would this be? You could even cross this year's census with this year's tax filers to figure out what percentage you'd still need to count. It just makes too much sense and cents. And stop with the "I don't want the IRS to know" blah blah blah. You're kidding yourself if you don't think our government doesn't already have this info on you in some form.

If you don't like the IRS idea, why not have a website and use the unique thing all citizens have: our Social Security number. This would be too easy as well. Yes there would still be some counting of those that are not computer literate, homeless, etc but just about anyway you cut it, you'd have to hand count these folks anyway. But the thought is to reduce the total costs here.

Again, there is not enough space to reform the census in this column, but as a citizen, please fill out your census - we are a huge investor in this poorly run business model so we might as well fill it out to get our fair return.

Let's hope down the road some obvious changes are made to the census business to take advantage of technologies, cross pollination opportunities of government agencies, and just plain common sense.

John Oxford is a banker in Tupelo and a community columnist. Contact him at John_oxford@hotmail.com, or Twitter:@johnoxford1.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

DeSoto happy with Census return rate

Seventy percent of DeSoto County households returned their federal census forms as of Friday's deadline to return the forms by mail, and local officials said Monday they were pleased with the response.

At 70 percent, DeSoto County outpaced the state as a whole, which had a return rate of 64 percent. The local figure was also slightly above the national return rate of 69 percent.

The figures were the most current available as of Monday afternoon.

"We're about 50,000 more (in population) than we were last census but still had about the same response rate," Matt Hanks, DeSoto County Geographic Information Systems director, said. "I think that's pretty impressive."

Hanks said the percentages may continue to creep up slightly even though the deadline has passed as late-arriving forms continue to be counted through May 3.

Friday was set as the deadline nationally to return forms received by mail. Those residences that didn't return forms by the deadline will be counted manually by census workers.

"I think one reason we did so well was the strong participation by officials in each city, encouraging residents to return forms," Hanks said. "I understand Mayor Alday was going door to door asking people to send in their forms,"

Hanks was referring to Walls Mayor Gene Alday, who said it's important for DeSoto County's smallest incorporated municipality to get an accurate count to secure certain grants.

Sixty-one percent returned forms in Walls, the lowest return rate among DeSoto County's five cities.

"Within the next 10 years, we're going to need federal assistance -- more fire, more police," Alday said. "We need to be eligible to apply for those grants in order to operate."

With only about 460 residents as of the last census count, Walls said he believes his community now stands at about 1,800 population. And that number could swell significantly if on-hold developments begin moving forward as the economy improves.

DeSoto County as a whole had an estimated population of 158,719 as of last July 1, representing a population gain of 51,520 since the 2000 census.

-- Ron Maxey: (901) 333-2019

Final count

Friday was the deadline to submit federal census forms by mail. DeSoto County's response rate as of Monday was 70 percent, compared to 69 percent nationally. The Mississippi return rate was 64 percent.

The return rates in DeSoto County's five incorporated municipalities, which figure into the countywide total along with returns from unincorporated portions of the county, were:

Olive Branch: 73 percent

Hernando: 72 percent

Southaven: 67 percent

Horn Lake: 63 percent

Walls: 61 percent

Monday, April 19, 2010

Census stakes high for Raymond

Raymond eyeing Census count...

For Raymond Mayor Isla Tullos, the difference between 2,000 and 1,999 is much greater than one.

It's the difference between a well- or ill-equipped fire department, between catching speeders and letting them go, between encouraging lawbreakers and keeping them at bay.

Between feeling safe and feeling vulnerable.

"That is the difference between being called a town or a city," Tullos said.

Once again, the U.S. census will determine the difference. And once again, Tullos hopes census takers give Raymond its due.

In 2000, they did not - at first. And the error underlines the potential impact of an inaccurate count for communities across the country as the mail-out/mail-back phase of the 2010 census ends Monday.

"Quite frankly, I'm worried about this happening here again," said Tullos, Raymond's mayor since 1997.

"For one thing, I never received a census form. I had to go to the library to get one."

A settlement of soon-to-be-determined size, Raymond rests in the middle of Hinds County, boasting a quaint town square chaperoned by a lofty water tower and perfumed by an outbreak of snowball viburnum's enormous white blooms.

At lunchtime one day last week, Tullos filled out a census form at a table inside the Country Food Shack on Clinton Street, across the way from her residence in the Old Probate building - another Raymond landmark.

"That's it," she said, finishing the form. "Very easy."

A few blocks away sits the main campus of Hinds Community College, whose students were key in restoring Raymond to city-hood after the last census. They will be key this time, too, Tullos said.

Ten years ago, Raymond's original population count amounted to a few hundred shy of the 2,000 needed to meet the "city" benchmark.

The city was demoted to a town.

That meant police felt handcuffed when it came to stopping speeders, Police Chief Jason Crotwell said.

"Towns aren't allowed to protect their citizens with radar. It's hard to catch or prove someone is speeding without it."

Radar-equipped police patrols also stir up a happy side effect, Tullos said.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wicker: Strong Census response will benefit MS communities

Wicker Urges Census Participation

A Strong Response will Benefit Mississippi Communities

The 2010 U.S. Census is well underway, and officials are beginning to tally the census forms that many citizens mailed back by the April 16 deadline. I am troubled by the rate of participation being reported out of Mississippi. A Census Bureau survey indicated that only 62 percent of Mississippi households statewide have responded so far, compared to a 67 percent rate by the deadline in 2000.

Some people have speculated that a healthy and growing skepticism about big government may result in a lower participation rate in this year’s census. However, I would strongly suggest that ignoring the census is not a productive way to make a statement against the size and intrusiveness of today’s federal government. In fact, such leading conservatives as Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove are speaking out to ease Americans’ concerns about the purpose of the census. They are urging all Americans to participate in the counting process, which has been an important part of our democracy since the founding fathers wrote it into the Constitution.

I agree with these conservative leaders. Beginning May 1, census workers will be dispatched to households that did not mail back their forms in order to gather this important information in person. Those who have not responded by mail will still have the opportunity participate. It is my hope that every single Mississippian will stand up and be counted.

Fair Representation and Funding

The U.S. Census is an important part of American history, and it serves a key purpose. James Madison wanted to ensure that all Americans would be fairly and proportionately represented in Congress. Thus, the Constitution requires a count of all U.S. citizens to be conducted once every 10 years. The results of the census determine what portion of federal resources will be allocated to each state and how many representatives states will have in Congress. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson oversaw the first census in 1790, and a count of the U.S. population has taken place every 10 years since.

Today, we have much to gain by taking an accurate count of our state’s residents. Many important federal funding decisions are made based on state population, including support for hospitals, schools, job training centers, transportation and public works projects, emergency services, and more. The higher our state’s response to the U.S. Census, the more federal resources are available to meet the needs of local communities.

When the 2000 Census was conducted, setting Mississippi’s Congressional representation and federal funding eligibility for the decade, no one could have anticipated the unprecedented challenge of Hurricane Katrina, which would become the most devastating and costly natural disaster in U.S. history. Many of the first responders, including area non-profit organizations and local fire, emergency medical, and law enforcement agencies, rely on funding support that is often determined by population needs. Census data also impacts funding for roads and bridges. This funding is critically important as our state continues to rebuild transportation infrastructure damaged or destroyed by Katrina. An accurate population count would help our state and local entities be better prepared to respond to future challenges.

Citizen Data is Confidential

It is important to stress the confidentiality of the information collected. Citizens are never asked for their social security numbers or for information about income. Once the data is collected, it is kept private by the U.S. Census Bureau. By law, census workers and officials are prohibited from disclosing identifiable information about participants. The information will not even be shared with other federal agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the Department of Justice, to name a few. Americans’ answers may never be used against them by the government or in any court. Ultimately, the information is collected with the sole purpose of producing population statistics.

Nationwide, 68 percent of households mailed back their census forms by the April 16, 2010, deadline. In an effort to collect data from the remaining 33 percent, 600,000 census workers will visit those who have not yet responded and ask the 10 simple questions in person. I hope all Mississippi households that are visited will take a few moments to answer the census workers’ questions. We all should remember that the census is confidential, it is Constitutional and time-honored, and a good result can benefit Mississippi for the next 10 years.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Commercial Appeal discusses Census 2010

With a Friday deadline to return federal census forms fast approaching, local and state officials are urging Mississippians to fill out their forms and mail them if they haven't done so already.

Friday is the last day to return census forms that were mailed to residents across the U.S. in March.

After the deadline, census workers will be sent to addresses from which forms haven't been received to collect the data in person.

Besides the cost of having to send workers -- it's estimated that taxpayers pay $57 per household for census workers to make in-person visits -- Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both R-Miss., said a thorough count ensures the state gets proper representation and its fair share of funding.

"The entire state of Mississippi benefits with each census forum returned, and the reverse can also be true," Cochran and Wicker said in a joint statement.

According to the most current figures, 61 percent of Mississippians have returned forms, compared to a national average return rate of 67 percent.

A Census Bureau survey showed that as of Tuesday, 18 of the state's 82 counties had return rates of at least 65 percent.

DeSoto County is keeping pace with the national rate at 67 percent.

Sun Herald call to action: Coast residents, mail back your Census form

Census needs a better response from the Coast

Participation in the 2010 Census is far from admirable along the Coast.

Friday is the deadline for mailing in the Census forms sent out last month. Even though the Census is mandated by the Constitution and compliance is required by federal law, the percentage of Coast residents responding is disheartening.

Based on the number of forms mailed out, by midweek 67 percent of all American households and 61 percent of all Mississippi households had sent in their Census forms. But along the Coast, the response rate was as low as:

Story: Census responses along the Coast
47 percent in Bay St. Louis.

46 percent in Pass Christian.

45 percent in Waveland.

The response rate on the Coast was best, but still shy of praiseworthy, in:

Ocean Springs, 66 percent.

Long Beach and Gautier, 64 percent each.

Moss Point, 63 percent.

If the form is not mailed in, a Census worker will have to be dispatched to the address to verify the number of residents, adding unnecessary cost to the Census process. So please, if you haven’t responded, do so by Friday. The tax dollars you save could be your own.

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/04/14/2099722/census-needs-a-better-response.html#ixzz0lBbXrpd6

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cochran, Wicker urge Mississippians to be counted

Sens. Cochran and Wicker Urge Mississippians to Send in Census Forms by April 16 Deadline

Census Data Sets Federal Funding, Congressional Representation for Miss.

WASHINGTON, DC— With the April 16 deadline looming, U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) today urged Mississippians to complete and send in their 2010 Census forms. U.S. census data, which is collected every 10 years, is used to determine the number of Representatives each state may send to Congress and how much federal funding will be allocated for hospitals, schools, emergency services, transportation infrastructure, and other services.

“The entire state of Mississippi benefits with each census form returned, and the reverse can also be true. I encourage Mississippians to complete and return a census form so that our state can be properly represented over the next decade,” said Cochran. “I commend the counties that, according to the Census Bureau, have return rates that meet or exceed 65 percent. As a state, we can do better, and I hope our citizens will act by Friday’s deadline.”

“Today, with only 61 percent of Mississippians participating in the census so far, our state is not where it needs to be. I hope every household in Mississippi will take a few moments to complete the census form and mail it in by April 16. This will help ensure that Mississippi is proportionately represented in Congress and that our state receives its fair share of federal resources to meet the specific needs of local communities,” said Wicker.

Earlier this year, every U.S. household received in the mail a census questionnaire and a pre-addressed, postage-paid return envelope. The questions on the form include the number of residents in the household as well as their ages, genders, and ethnicities. All information is kept confidential. As of April 13, a Census Bureau survey indicated that only 61 percent of Mississippi households statewide have completed and sent in their forms. Eighteen of the state’s counties have return rates of at least 65 percent—Alcorn, Chickasaw, Clay, DeSoto, Itawamba, Lincoln, Lowndes, Monroe, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Rankin, Tate, Tippah, Tishomingo, Union, Walthall, Webster and Winston.

The Census Bureau will accept all census forms mailed on or before April 16, 2010. After the mail return deadline, the Census Bureau will dispatch census workers to households that have not responded in order to collect the data.

It costs the government .42 cents to receive a questionnaire back through the mail, but it costs taxpayers $57 per household for census workers to collect the same information in person. The Census Bureau projects that if every household mailed back its questionnaire, it would drastically reduce the cost of the census and save taxpayers $1.5 billion.

The U.S. Constitution calls for a census of American citizens to be carried out every 10 years. The first census was conducted in 1790, and a count of the U.S. population has taken place every 10 years since.

Constituents with additional questions may visit the U.S. Census 2010 website for more information: http://2010.census.gov/2010census/index.php