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Census bureau hoping 2000 count more accurate

January 19, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

United States Census Bureau officials in Maryland are trying to avoid a repeat of 1990, when the state's residents were undercounted by an estimated 2 percent.

The Hagerstown office, which covers five counties, kicked off Census 2000 Wednesday with an event that was part press conference and part pep rally.

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Amid balloons, pastries, and a high school jazz band, government leaders urged residents to fill out their census questionnaires when they arrive in the mail around the end of March.

The U. S. Constitution requires that a census be conducted every 10 years.

Census information dictates which communities get funding for programs and services, lets businesses know where to locate, and determines representation in government, officials said.

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Wayne Kline, the local Census office manager, said Maryland missed out on about $1 billion in potential federal grants and loans over 10 years because its 1990 population statistics were inaccurate.

Washington, Frederick, Garrett, Allegany and Carroll counties lost a combined $41 million during that period, Kline said.

"We need to get the funds we deserve in the counties and state," he said.

Washington County Commissioner Paul Swartz joked that he will get Social Security numbers for his dogs and cats, so they, too, could be counted. He held up a sign that said "CENSU$" and suggested that was an acronym for "Count everyone now - save us dollars."

More than 285,000 people nationwide are expected to work on Census 2000, according to the Census Bureau.

April 1 is Census Day. Officials hope to record everyone who was living in the United States on that day.

Questionnaires will be mailed a few days before then, and should be returned by April 15, when enumerators will begin visiting residents who have not responded, Kline said.

In 1990, the population of Maryland was measured at 4,751,468, but officials later figured that about 100,000 residents were not counted.

Only 12 states missed a greater percentage of its residents, Kline said. The state's population has since climbed to more than 5 million.

The return rates for mail surveys in 1990 ranged locally from 76 percent in Carroll County down to 55 percent in Garrett County. The statewide rate was 70 percent.

Census workers will follow up on unreturned surveys with a maximum of three visits and three phone calls, said George Grandy, the deputy director of the regional census center in Philadelphia. As a last resort, they will ask a neighbor to verify information, he said.

Most people will be asked to fill out a "short form," with questions such as name, sex, and age. One in six households will be sent a longer form, with questions about an additional 27 subjects, such as education, ancestry, employment and disability.

The local census office plans to hire up to 3,000 people, Kline said. Enumerators, or census takers, will be paid $10 an hour, crew leaders will get $11.50 an hour, and office clerks will receive $7.50 an hour, he said.

The number for information for census jobs is 1-888-325-7733.

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