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StarBulletin.com

Count us in for census


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POSTED: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hawaii stands to receive an economic stimulus from the upcoming census not only because of hiring for census-taking jobs but also from the long-range effect of having a disproportionate number of census takers. Those directing the effort rightly appreciate the dividends for Hawaii in recruiting workers from the lines of the unemployed.

The U.S. Census Bureau plans to hire 1.2 million people for temporary census-taking jobs paying $10 to $25 an hour—a total of $2.3 billion to be injected into the U.S. economy. More than 20,000 of those jobs will be in Hawaii, with starting pay of $17 an hour.

The agency recognizes a greater need for workers in areas where the mail-in response rate to the census form has been low. While the need for census-takers may be lower in many areas of the country, Hawaii's traditionally low response rates will result in more workers to be hired; the islands' 60 percent response by residents in the 2000 census was third-lowest in the country.

A study of that census showed that the nation's final head count was about 1.8 percent below the actual population, while the undercount in Hawaii was 2.16 percent, the second-highest undercount. The low count cost Hawaii an estimated $310 million over a decade in federal funds distributed on the basis of census figures.

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Officials told the Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan that Hawaii's low response rate can be attributed to some residents being wary of government, some having language barriers and others not recognizing the effect of the count on distribution of federal funds to their communities.

“;The census is all about power and money,”; said Marilyn Yoza, partnership specialist in the Census Bureau's Honolulu office.

The average resident doesn't understand, she said, that the federal government spends $430 billion a year to the states.

Two-thirds of the nationwide hiring will be in late April and early May, as field workers will knock on doors of households that did not return census forms mailed in March.

Rebecca Blank, the undersecretary for economic affairs in the U.S. Department of Commerce, said the hiring could have the effect of lowering the national unemployment rate by half of 1 percent. With more field-workers per capita, Hawaii's rate could be affected even more and the long-term ramifications could be greater.

The bureau is looking in Hawaii for workers “;in the neighborhood where they live, so that somebody coming to the door looks like them, speaks the same language and may even know them,”; Yoza said. “;It's real important that they live in the area where they want to work.”;