WASHINGTON – The Census Bureau unveiled a $167 million ad campaign Wednesday to boost participation in Census 2000, a move that Maryland officials hailed as “very exciting.”
A lot is riding on the census for the state and local governments: The federal government doles out $185 billion a year based on its population counts.
Census officials said last year that they undercounted Maryland’s population by as much as 100,000 residents in the 1990 census. Prince George’s County officials estimate that their county alone has lost $20 million a year in federal funds because of that 1990 undercount, or $200 million this decade.
“It’s important to get the word out about the census,” said Jacqueline Brown Woody of the Census 2000 Outreach office in Prince George’s County.
Census officials hope to get the word out with their first-ever paid advertising campaign pushing the message, “This is your future. Don’t leave it blank.”
The television, radio and print ads will begin appearing Nov. 1 and will be targeted to historically undercounted groups, including American Indians, blacks, Asians, Hispanics and the poor. Some of the ads will be in Spanish.
“This is the people’s census,” Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said in a prepared statement. “We believe everyone counts and we want this message to reach every person living in the United States, Puerto Rico and the island areas.”
Census data also helps state, local and tribal governments decide where to build new schools, hospitals, day-care facilities and job-training centers, he said.
The bureau has a partnership program with about 30,000 state, local and tribal governments to get the word out, including governments in Maryland.
“We are here to help them do their job,” said Marvin Masterson, census operations director for the Maryland Secretary of State. He said the federal ad campaign “is very exciting. The paid media campaign had never been done before.”
Masterson said Maryland officials will work on “the hardest-to-enumerate areas,” which may be undercounted because individuals in those areas fail to fill out or mail in census forms, among other reasons. He said areas that may be undercounted include Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
“Some people in these areas may be transient or immigrants, the underprivileged,” Masterson said. “They think that filling out the census won’t matter. We want to reach out to them.”
Masterson said the state will help the Census Bureau recruit enumerators, but he could not say Wednesday how many enumerators would be recruited nor how much the state has budgeted to promote Census 2000. He said his office is awaiting budget approval from the governor, which is expected in a few weeks.
Woody said Prince George’s County has “a lot of hard-to-enumerate areas.”
“There are people who don’t trust the government or are unfamiliar with the census,” she said. “Others are apathetic or feel that the census is not important. We also have a lot new immigrants, a large Latino community.”
She has seen the results of an undercount. Because of undercount of 22,000 county residents in the 1990 Census, she said, Prince George’s lost $200 million in potential federal funding over the last decade.
But she is optimistic about Census 2000.
“We built a strong partnership and Census 2000 Outreach has been working everyday to get the word out,” she said.
Masterson is also confident that Maryland will have complete count for Census 2000.
“The spirit is in the air with all individuals. Everyone has been working hard at all levels,” he said.