The 2000 Census

By Jerilyn WatsonThe United States government counts the population of the country every ten years in a process called the census. This count is very important in planning for America's future. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Sarah Long. The Census of Two-Thousand is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

A federal agency called the Bureau of the Census has begun a job it does every ten years. That job is to reach every home in the United States to count the population and to learn about social and economic changes. The United States Constitution says this population count must be done every ten years. The results are needed to make sure election areas have equal numbers of voters. The results also are used to help officials divide federal and state money fairly among local areas.The Census of Two-Thousand is meant to tell what America and Americans are like at the start of the new century. Officials began mailing census documents to one-hundred-twenty-million American homes last month. Americans are required by law to compete and return the forms. By the middle of this month, Americans had completed and returned more than sixty percent of these census forms.

Later this week, about five-hundred-thousand census workers will visit all areas in the country. These workers will visit the homes of people who have not completed and returned their census forms. They will help people finish the process. The census workers also will visit colleges and universities and even prisons to count the people who live there.

Last month, census workers around the country searched streets and shelters in order to count homeless people in the census. The government wants to include people with no permanent homes in its count. The last census was done in Nineteen-Ninety. Critics say it counted fewer than half of the nation's homeless people.

The last census also is believed to have under-counted the total United States population by as many as eight-million people. This year, the census is spending about six-thousand-million dollars to try to learn the true number of people in the nation.The United States Census Bureau is responsible for the national count. It says census information is needed for officials to plan thousands of millions of dollars in federal aid to schools and cities. The information also helps officials decide where to build homes, hospitals, stores, banks and roads.

The census count is also very important for political reasons. The number of seats a state has in the United States House of Representatives depends on the state's population. These seats are reconsidered every ten years, based on the census results.A number of areas reportedly were affected by the under-count of Nineteen-Ninety. For example, the western state of California has fifty-two seats in the House of Representatives. Many observers say it would have had fifty-three seats if the Nineteen-Ninety census had counted correctly.

Expert say big states like New York and Pennsylvania may lose representatives because of the current census. They say southern and western states may gain as many as ten Congressional seats.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Most American homes received a short version of the census form. It asks how many people were living in that home on April first. It asks about their sex, age, and race. It asks if the people are of Spanish, Hispanic or Latino heritage. And it asks how long they have lived in their present home. Five of every six homes received this census form. Census officials say it is the shortest of any short form in many years.

However, one home of every six received the long census form. It contains fifty-three questions. These forms include the same questions as the short form. They also ask for much more information.

For example, the long form asks the value of a person's home. It asks the amount of debt owed for the home. It asks if the home has water, and what kind of fuel is used to heat it. It asks many questions about each person who lives in the home. For example, it asks how many years the person went to school. It asks how much money the person earns.Census officials say they are satisfied with the total return of forms so far. However, some expressed concern that not enough people are returning the long version. In the middle of this month, the Census Bureau said it had received sixty-five percent of the short forms. But it said only fifty-one percent of the long forms had been returned.

Some people dislike the questions asked on the long form. They believe some of the questions are an invasion of their privacy. They have protested on radio and television. Republican Party leaders urged people to return their census forms. But some Republicans also advised people not to answer questions that are too private. Democrats in the House of Representatives criticized such advice. They said members of Congress had a chance to consider the census questions a few years ago. And, they said no one objected to the questions at that time.The Senate recently approved a resolution saying that no one would be punished for failing to answer some of the census questions. This measure will not be enforced. However, no one seems to believe that people who do not answer some questions will be in legal trouble.

Census director Kenneth Prewitt expressed regret about the Senate action. He said it could harm the census effort. Mr. Prewitt noted the results of public opinion studies on the census done by an independent organization. During the first two weeks of the census, ten percent of the people in the study said some questions invaded their privacy. A similar study was made after criticisms were discussed in the media. It showed that seventeen percent of the public disliked some questions on the census form.Kenneth Prewitt says many people who have lived in the United States for only a short time do not trust the census. He says this is especially true of people who are living here illegally. But the government says personal census information will not be given to law enforcement or tax agencies.

In addition, announcements on radio, television and in public places tell people that no other government agencies will read their census forms. The announcements urge people to complete and return their forms. For example, many signs in Los Angeles, California are in Spanish. They urge people to "Make Yourself Count." The government has spent more than one-hundred-sixty-million dollars on this education campaign.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))One major change in the census this year deals with questions about race. People can note that they belong to more than one race. In fact, there are fourteen choices for race on the census forms. They include white; African American; American Indian or Alaska native; Chinese; Vietnamese; Asian Indian; Samoan, or other Pacific Islander. The government says the racial information is needed to enforce civil rights laws.

Some people say they are not sure how to describe their race. For example, many citizens of the island state of Hawaii have ancestors of several races. Some of these people list all of these races. Other people declare themselves as native Hawaiians.The Two-Thousand Census is expected to show that the United States has gained many more people from other countries. For example, in the middle western city of Chicago, Illinois, seventeen languages besides English currently are used in the public schools. They include Mandarin and Urdu.

Officials say they believe the population of the United States will be about two-hundred-seventy-five-million when the count is finished. President Clinton will receive a report at the end of December.

Experts believe there will be much debate about the census. But they agree on one thing: The Census of Two-Thousand will be important in American life for many years to come.

This VOA Special English program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Paul Thompson. I'm Sarah Long. Our audio engineer was Rick Barnes.And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.