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Census workers aim for a good count on Vashon

As the decadal count of Americans launches this month, Islanders and officials are trying to find ways to ensure that all on Vashon — from those with P.O. boxes to undocumented immigrants — are counted.

Islanders and census officials are banding together to get an accurate count of Vashon’s population, an elusive number that previous censuses may not have accurately pinpointed, some say. Census questionnaires will be mailed out March 15.

Specifically, officials hope to accurately count Vashon’s growing Hispanic population, a demographic that may have lower participation in the census due to fear or lack of understanding, said Gladys Romero, a U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialist who recently visited Island locations — including the food bank, the library, Casa Bonita and La Piñata — to pass out information about the census.

“The census is important; it is safe for everyone, and it is confidential,” she said. “We’re making sure to do outreach.”

Officials plan to continue to reach out to what they called the Island’s “hard-to-count” populations — including minorities, seniors and newcomers — and establish an information center on Vashon for those with questions about the census.

“It’s really important to get the (Hispanic population’s) numbers, because they’ve come in large numbers since the 2000 census,” said Islander Alice Larson, a social service researcher who works often with demographic data. “We’re going to do the best we can to encourage those people where English is not their primary language. They can definitely get the (census) forms in Spanish.”

The census is safe even for undocumented residents, noted Romero — census information does not ask about legal residency status and is not shared with the Internal Revenue Service or immigration authorities.

In an effort to collect data from more Americans, the Census Bureau has made the census questionnaire simpler this year.

The census asks questions about who lives at a particular address, including their name, age, gender and race; officials promise it will take only 10 minutes to fill out the form.

Islanders should receive census questionnaires in their mailboxes this month.

Those without mailboxes should expect a census taker to knock on their door next month, because the census mails only to physical addresses, not P.O. boxes.

And those who don’t return their questionnaire by April 1 should also expect to soon greet a census taker at their door — a person who will help them fill out their census then and there.

Counting every American is critical to the future of the nation, the state and even the Island, officials say.

On Vashon, an unincorporated area with typical infrastructure and social service needs, getting an accurate count is important, officials say, since monetary allocations for many services and improvements are based on population.

For every 100 people counted, roughly $1.5 million in regional funding per year is at stake, said Deni Luna, a spokesperson for the regional U.S. Census Bureau.

“The census is used for every major federal program that relies on numbers for funding,” she said. “That includes roads, hospitals, schools, bridges, health programs like Medicaid, job training and unemployment benefits.”

Washington state, too, has a lot at stake. The state is on the cusp of earning an additional congressperson in the House of Representatives based on population growth but could receive the representative only if the census count shows the state’s true population growth.

“We may end up with another representative, but only if we do a proper count,” Romero said.

Separate from the financial considerations, the census is important for the picture it paints of an area, a chance, Larson said, to find out just who’s living on the Island.

“Other areas have city governments or county governments that gather detailed data” on their populations, she said. “Because we’re unincorporated, we don’t have a lot of that same data. We lack a whole lot of detail about what’s happening with us.”

According to the 2000 census, there were 10,123 people living on Vashon.

But some say that number was inaccurate and that the population was greater than that in 2000 and is greater still today.

“In the past, I don’t think that all the (Vashon) population has been counted,” Romero said. “Mostly newcomers or minority groups are not counted.”

And though Vashon poses a few unique challenges for census officials, they say they’re prepared to tackle them head-on this year.

“On Vashon, there’s a mix of different people and a certain set of challenges,” said Luna. Census officials have been preparing to meet those challenges, she said.

For instance, there’s the issue that some Islanders only have P.O. boxes, not physical addresses.

And some Vashon residences are home to more than one family, but only one address. Islanders in this situation should make an effort to get enough questionnaires for all the residents of their address, Luna said.

There will also be some residents who are hard to reach, she added, whether because they travel a good deal, are afraid of giving their census data or are concerned about their privacy.

“Confidentiality is taken very seriously,” Luna said. “All census employees take a lifetime oath.”

Learn more

Visit www.2010census.gov for more information about the 2010 U.S. Census.

Islander Alice Larson, who has worked with U.S. censuses for decades, is also available to answer questions. Call her at 463-9000 or e-mail las@wolfenet.com.

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