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For Immediate Release:
Contact: Mario H. Lopez
(301) 457-5080

Have You Been Counted?

J. Kenneth Blackwell
Co-Chair, U.S. Census Monitoring Board

The Miami Herald

If you watched the Super Bowl, you probably saw it. Somewhere between E*Trade and oxygen.com, a commercial for the 2000 Census. The camera pans past students, classrooms, a cafeteria -- all overcrowded -- and stops at a janitor`s closet. The door opens to reveal a teacher and a cramped room full of students. The message: Answer the census, and help direct much-needed funds to ease overcrowding in local schools.

It`s a good commercial; the census may be a national count, but it has local impact, guiding more than $180 billion in federal funds every year. It is also fitting that the ad was aired during the game. Football is a game of inches, and the census is a game of neighborhoods. The Census Bureau does a good job counting most of the country -- but not in some neighborhoods. Where English isn`t the first language, or where people don`t trust government, the undercount can be severe. The census doesn`t miss just two or three percent of those neighborhoods; it can miss 10 percent, or 50 percent, or even more.

These areas suffer most from the undercount. The census can deliver fair shares of political representation and public funding. If half the people on your block are missed, you don`t get anywhere close to your fair share.

Many of these neighborhoods are in South Florida. I`ve met with folks in hard-to-count areas in Chicago, New York City and elsewhere. Miami-Dade County rivals anyplace in the country for the most diversity in the least area. Recently, guided by Hialeah`s state Rep. Rudy Garcia, I met with members of the Cuban, Salvadoran, Haitian, African-American and Puerto Rican communities, among others. I don`t think we drove more than 20 miles that day, but, in terms of culture, we traveled the world.

Each neighborhood -- Miami and elsewhere -- has its own identity, its own flavor, its own network of leaders. The Laurel Homes, the public housing in Cincinnati where I grew up, had its own human-information network. I had more aunts than my mother and father had sisters. At any given time, my aunties might be on the stoop or at the window, from one end of the neighborhood to the other. Nothing under the sun was hidden from my aunties. If you got into trouble on one end, the news was at the other faster than you could run. Kids today have the Internet. But in my neighborhood, we had the Auntie Net.
Wherever you live, you`re likely to have something like the Auntie Net: a network of community leaders who speak the language, know the area and are trusted by the community. These are the true undercount experts -- the people we need to enlist if we really want a good picture of the close-knit communities in South Florida and elsewhere.

Partner With The Census
The Census Bureau is hiring more than 500,000 people to go door-to-door during the census. Local Complete Count Committees, groups of leaders partnered with the census, can promote participation. In linguistically or culturally isolated neighborhoods, local census offices can hire local guides -- without the usual testing (the test for census-takers often screens out the people best equipped to count close-knit communities such as Little Havana and Little Haiti -- the very communities that have the most to gain from a good count).

Leaders in Miami-Dade need to get the word out and mobilize the network of human resources in each neighborhood. They also need to keep pressure on the bureau, to make sure that local people are hired to count local neighborhoods. Without the help of Miami`s local experts, the million-dollar ad campaign will be the big play that comes up short in Florida.

J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio`s secretary of state, is co-chair of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board.