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October 29, 1999
Census Readies Advertising Blitz
A P Kamath in Washington
Vowing that everyone in America would be counted, the Census Bureau launched on Thursday a $ 170 million advertising campaign, far bigger than that of Coca Cola or IBM. Only Burger King and McDonald's spend more.
"The census start in April next year, but the awareness ought to be created much before that," said Subash Razdan who serves on Georgia's State's Census Bureau. "The campaign is particularly aimed at the newer immigrants and minorities who may not how much it is important to being counted," he said.
Federal and state governments allot budget for welfare programs, for instance, based on a headcount. Advocates for the homeless and underprivileged claim that in the last census in the year 1990 thousands of people in many big cities were not counted, because of the indifference of the census, the cynical attitude of the homeless or the poor, or fear among illegal immigrants. Census officials estimate that 4.7 million people were missed in the 1990 count. Advocacy groups think the number is bigger.
The bureau said four in 10 households did not return the forms sent by the government in 1990. But many public advocates remind the census officials that the bureau was expected to send volunteers to these houses and gather the information.
"There is strength in numbers, too," says Razdan, who is also the chairman of the trustees of the National Federation of Indian Associations. "When elected officials know that there is a substantial ethnic community in their districts, they make special efforts to understand their problems."
Razdan is one of a handful of Indian Americans who will serve the Census Board till the middle of next year. Others included Jaishree Abhichandani in New York and Narasimha (Nick) Shenoy in Philadelphia.
Census Bureau officials want the message to reach people from more than one direction. They want posters in temples, churches, gurudwaras, synagogues, barbershops, shopping malls, universities and schools, speeches in places of worship and ads in local papers. Census literature in more than 25 languages, including Urdu, Hindi and Gujarati, will be distributed, as was done during the Indian and Pakistani Independence day events recently. At the Diwali melas and Navratri celebrations too census literature is being used.
Over two million posters will be put up in more than 100 cities and large towns.
"Ethnic volunteers who speak world languages will be in big demand in a few weeks," Razdan says. "Our community leaders should urge Indian Americans to volunteer -- their visibility will let Americans known that we are also interested in helping other people."
Census forms will reach mailboxes next March. Many volunteers will be calling on homes just to make sure the forms have been received -- and mailed.
Officials hope that if people see the census everywhere and determine it's in their interest to participate, more of them will return the forms.
"We need to count everyone," said Julie Anzelmo, a bureau spokeswoman in the Dallas office.
The census message emphasizes that far more than numbers is at stake. Census data determine congressional representation, for instance.
"Congressional seats are created depending on the number of population," says Razdan. New Yorkers, for instance, could have gained two seats in the House of Representatives if all New Yorkers are counted.
Fieldworkers and other follow-up work counted many of the others, but officials estimate that 1.8 percent of Americans were not counted. A disproportionate number of minorities was missed, according to the bureau.
In Dallas in 1990, about 5 percent of residents were missed, costing the city more than $ 76 million in federal aid over the next 10 years, officials have said. New York reportedly missed about eight percent residents and lost over $ 200 million in federal and state aid.
The bureau hopes to advertise the fact that census records are sealed by law, even from other government agencies. Census takers say they must work against entrenched cultural biases that sometimes include a distrust of government. In addition, officials say, some undocumented immigrants evade census workers because they are afraid of deportation. This is the first time paid ads are being used.
Abhichandani and other census officials concentrating on ethnic communities are urging people from those communities to volunteer for census activities. In addition, over 100,000 temporary jobs will be created early next year.
"When there are more ethnic faces around, minority communities feel confident of answering census forms," Razdan says.
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