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Officials, residents urge return of census forms

Sandra Rankin is worried that not everyone will be counted in the 2010 census.

On Tuesday she voiced her concerns during a news conference to promote awareness about the upcoming census.

"I've been to meetings where people are afraid this information will be given to other agencies," said Rankin, state connection chair for Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically black sorority that raises community awareness. "I've already spoken to a large number of people who know they won't be represented — most black males."

The group is advocating that residents return their forms.

The system may not be perfect, but the information provided is vital, said Chester Daniel, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas.

Daniel, who was born in the Caribbean country of Barbados and immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s, said it is important that each person is counted.

"While we are making efforts to make sure the census is easier and more people are represented, we know there is still a long way to go," Daniel said. "This is a serious time — a time where everyone needs to be counted."

The census, taken every 10 years, affects political representation and directs the allocation of $400 billion in annual government funding.

"I want to express how important the census is to all of us in community," said Charlene Stevens, assistant manager for Sedgwick County. "It is the foundation for creating our city and county districts and determining our representative seats of government. ... It is essential for our community's economics.

"If we don't get the number right in 2010, we will have to live with it for another 10 years."

Only 10 questions are asked of each household, and the information is not shared with other agencies, said Craig Best, assistant regional census manager for the Kansas City Regional Census Center.

Questionnaires will be sent in March. People can fill out the forms and return them by mail. If the form is not returned, a census worker will be sent to the residence.

The census must count every person in each household of the United States. It registers each person's date of birth, race and sex. Among other questions it asks are: Is anyone staying in the house with no permanent place to stay? Is the house, apartment or mobile home owned or rented? How many live in the house?

The Census Bureau protects information that identifies respondents or their households for more than 70 years. Census workers are sworn to a lifetime oath of confidentiality, with penalties of up to $250,000 and five years in jail if they violate that confidentiality.

"This is the 23rd census of the United States," Best said. "We get one chance to do it — and to do it right. This is a national effort but it happens locally. We want those kitchen tables covered with people sitting down and filling out the census forms."

U.S. Census workers are needed locally. More than 1,000 temporary jobs will be offered in the next few months to Wichita-area residents willing to work flexible hours and go door to door. The jobs will pay $10 to $17 an hour.

People interested in applying should go to www.2010CensusJobs.gov cq or call the Kansas City regional office at 866-861-2010.cq

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