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Census Bureau eyes Fulton County, Pa.

October 21, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - With a population of less than 15,000 people, rural Fulton County doesn't seem like the kind of place that would attract the attention of the U.S. Bureau of Census.

But Fulton County was exactly what the census bureau needed for a test of the American Community Survey, a new initiative to improve quality, accuracy and timeliness of census information for use by local communities.

Last year, the county was one of four in the country where the survey was tested. The survey was also tried out in Brevard County, Fla.; Multnomah County, Ore., which includes Portland; and Rockland County, N.Y.

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Census bureau officials released the results of the survey and details of how it will work in the future at a daylong meeting Tuesday in McConnellsburg.

"For decades, people have been asking for data every year or to take the census every five years," said Cynthia Taeuber, policy analyst with the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

It costs about $4 billion to take a census every 10 years, making it too expensive to do the count more often than that, she said.

From its beginnings in 1790, when the country's founding fathers made taking a periodic count of population and gathering other data a constitutional requirement, census information has been used in a variety of ways.

For example, communities can keep track of poverty and income levels in an area, determine population statistics such as age, gender, race or ethnicity, follow unemployment figures and track commuting patterns, Taeuber said.

From that data, communities can make decisions about where to locate schools, highways and hospitals, encourage economic development, and measure the performance of programs, she said.

"Having to use old data costs time and money for a lot of people," she said.

By 2003, the public will have access to updated information every year in the form of data gathered from the survey.

"It's almost impossible for a rural area to have this quality of data in a timely manner," said Margaret Taylor, executive director of the Fulton Industrial Development Corporation.

Information from the census and the survey is used to make decisions, to look at trends and to make comparisons with other areas to see how the county changes, Taylor said.

"Rural counties are not in the position to commission this kind of research," she said.

The community survey will not replace the 10-year census, but will simplify it, Taeuber said.

The census is made up of two parts - it counts the population and collects the economic, social and housing profiles of communities and population groups in the country.

After the 2000 census is taken, the community survey will replace the second part by providing yearly updates on the economic, social and housing data. The census will still be taken every decade, but only for the head count, Taeuber said.

The survey is conducted monthly in households using mailed questionnaires, telephone interviews and visits from the census bureau's field representatives.

Once the information is compiled, the public will be able to access the data through the Internet on a World Wide Web site and, in the near future, by computer CD-ROMs.

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