Census Looks to Students For Assistance With Count

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As the drive to count the population for Census 2000 gears up this month, officials said they are turning to UC Berkeley students to help prevent undercounting in the area.

The Census Bureau is hiring workers to follow up on citizens who do not respond to requests for information by April.

The bureau estimates that 45 million people will not respond, necessitating the hiring of 500,000 temporary workers who will go door-to-door to get statistical information on the populace. The census has been criticized in the past for undercounting minorities and poor people.

Census recruiters said accurate counts are important because they are used to divide up districts for the U.S. House of Representatives. They also determine how much funding cities and counties receive for such services as health and education.

"If people don't respond, they don't exist," said Mica Calderon, manager of recruiting for the Census Bureau. "Services that are allocated to them aren't allocated anymore because they don't exist."

The Berkeley area has been a valuable source of census workers who speak different languages, Calderon said. This is important because many citizens cannot respond in English.

"A lot of people don't respond because they don't understand the language," she said. "If they know an area has 100 people that don't speak English, they will be able to offer (English as a Second Language). The bottom line is for their benefit."

Spanish speakers are especially needed as census takers, Calderon said.

One of the main hindrances to local census takers is that citizens are wary of giving out information about themselves, Calderon added. But she pointed out that the Census Bureau is the only organization in the United States that does not have to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, which requires public disclosure of government documents.

"Census workers take the information but never share it," she said.

One census recruiter who graduated from UC Berkeley also said the university is a prime target for recruitment efforts.

"(UC Berkeley students) can increase participation because they have the sensitivity and knowledge of the community," said recruiter Will Taylor.

Taylor said the bureau has already sought workers from Professor Alex Saragoza's ethnic studies class.

Saragoza said the current census has relevance to his course.

"We just finished speaking about the 1924 Immigration Act," Saragoza said. "The census was huge in setting quotas for people from Europe. It was a good way to demonstrate the use of it."

Saragoza added that some of his students may have been affected by shortcomings in the census process.

"There was a large undercount in the 1990 census, especially immigrants because they don't speak the language," he said. "A lot of students are sons and daughters of recent immigrants."

Professor L. Ling-Chi Wang, coordinator of the ethnic studies department, said undercounting has been a significant problem in the area.

"There were 23,000 to 25,000 undercounted in Oakland in the last census," he said. "They need outreach in the minority community, especially those that speak different languages."

More than 70 Berkeley-area residents have already applied to work for the Census Bureau, Taylor said. Applicants must be able to pass a short multiple-choice test that includes basic reading, clerical, numerical and map-reading skills.

UC Berkeley students who hold jobs as census workers have said the pay - often $15 per hour - makes the job well worth their time.


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