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2010 Census: Texas can't afford another under-count

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To combat rising levels of distrust, the Census Bureau is partnering with local communities - including churches, major employers and chambers of commerce - in an extensive outreach campaign.

"Locals know best how to reach their communities regarding the importance of the count and let them know the data is confidential," Eschbach said. So far, more than 250 national partners have signed on to bolster the awareness effort.

Census data is used to issue approximately $300 billion in federal funds nationwide. Texas received more than $26.2 billion in funds last year, according to the State Comptroller's Office.

With the second-highest population in the United States, the stakes are high for Texas in 2010. The state stands to gain an estimated four Congressional seats, according to Eschbach, and a list of wide-ranging programs, including health care and education, receive federal aid based on census figures.

"No offense to people in Wyoming or South Dakota," Eschbach said, "but they should not be getting the amount of funding Texas does, based on population."

The populations most in need of aid are generally the ones with the highest levels of distrust in government and the ones who stand to lose the most from an inaccurate count.

Hispanics make up much of the state's recent population growth, especially along the border, where the undercount was most pronounced in the last census.

"Minorities and immigrant communities…are most likely to be affected by an undercount," Eschbach said. "Their neighborhoods stand to lose the most in terms of allocation and redistricting of Congressional seats."

If census outreach efforts fail, "these parts of the state would tend not to get their fair share."

To counter the threat of another undercount, the Census Bureau has hired some 140,000 workers to canvass neighborhoods and identify each residential address. A form will be sent to those addresses, and workers will make repeat visits (if necessary) to homes from which a form was not submitted.

The Bureau has also streamlined its survey form. In 2000, one of every six households was sent a longer, more detailed questionnaire requesting income and education information. The document, known as the American Community Survey, is now administered separately from the pared-down census form.

While there are no immediate plans for census forms to be delivered or completed via the Internet, Eschbach said the Bureau has benefited from other advances, such as aerial photography.

"Now if we notice a discrepancy in the photos and the postal service address list, it becomes easier for local agencies to partner with the bureau to get information from those households."

Census tallies are also viable in other realms. Economic development officials use the data to lure businesses and bring new jobs to the state.