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Invisible Man
Lorraine A. Green
for the National Newspaper Publishers Association

In his 1952 classic, Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison wrote about the condition of African Americans, "I am an invisible man . . . I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - - I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."

Ellison's words described a contemporary state of racism and bigotry in this country in 1952. There was a refusal to recognize and include the African-American community into the American portrait. But pick this book up today, and Invisible Man could also speak to our under representation in the census. As a community, we have been historically undercounted in the decennial count. In the 2000 census, the repercussions of an undercount would be devastating.

At stake is our political representation and more than a trillion dollars in federal funding over ten years. From hospitals and schools, to foster-care and Head Start, programs that are imperative to our community are at risk of not being funded at the necessary levels. Accurate census information is also critical to monitor and enforce such initiatives as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. To put it bluntly, if we are not counted in the 2000 Census, we lose big time.

In the 1990 Census, approximately 8.4 million people were left uncounted and a disproportionate number were African Americans - - 4.5% of the African American population was missed; that's one in every twenty-two people.

Looking ahead, the Bureau is spending close to $7 billion to ensure Census 2000 is a success. Efforts include, among other things, the launch of its first-ever paid advertising campaign designed to raise public awareness of the census and explain its importance to all Americans. Targeted ads will address such issues as confidentiality, a major concern in our community. In addition, the Bureau is working closely with field offices and those in the local community.

While the Census Bureau is doing its part to ensure that everyone is counted, ultimately it's up to each and every one of us to mail back the questionnaire that will arrive in our mailbox in March. Take an active role. Spread the word locally through your churches, schools and neighborhood groups. Talk to your family, friends and relatives about the census - - let them know that this is not just a once-a-decade exercise. It's about people, of "substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids." It's about all of us. It's about our representation.

There are more than 600,000 census jobs available. Apply for a census job today; you could make up to $8.25 to $18.50 per hour, depending on where you reside. It is also critical that enumerators come from the communities in which they live.

Ellison was right to say that people refuse to see us, but now we can choose to be seen. Let's participate in Census 2000, and help achieve a brighter future for our children, our families and our community.

It's time to come out of the shadows and be counted. Census 2000 affords us with a unique opportunity to stand tall and show our strength in numbers.

Lorraine A. Green is a Presidential Appointee of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board and the Corporate Vice President for Human Resources at Amtrak. For additional information visit www.cmbp.gov. For a photo of Lorraine Green call (202) 722-6035.

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