WASHINGTON – Some local Hispanic leaders are complaining that “very little is being done” by the Census Bureau to reach hard-to-count minority populations in the upcoming census.
The problem starts with a lack of Hispanic workers in local Census offices with less than six months to the start of Census 2000, they said.
“The Census Bureau needs to make sure that its local offices are being staffed appropriately,” said Ana Sol Gutierrez, the former president of CASA de Maryland Inc., a non-profit that serves Hispanics in parts of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. “They’ve got to have bilingual enumerators or the hard-to-count areas won’t be reached.”
Gutierrez said she feels there has been “a real lack of sensitivity on the part of the Census Bureau” and cited her local Rockville office specifically a few weeks ago for its lack of diversity.
But the manager of the Census office in Rockville defended the minority staffing levels there.
“We have eight Hispanics working here now out of 27 people,” said Altheria Barnett, the office manager. “There is one manager, two clerks and the others are recruiting clerks.
“We don’t focus just on Hispanics. They’re not the dominant population of Montgomery County,” said Barnett. “What we do is we target them in order to recruit them to work in their communities.”
She said her office plans to recruit more than 3,000 Hispanics in Montgomery County as Census 2000 enumerators, workers who actually go door-to- door in some cases to collect census data.
The Rockville office has been “actively testing” in different locations throughout Montgomery County for enumerators, she said. Testing, which is available in Spanish, began in April and will continue until April 2000.
News of that effort makes Galo Correa Sr. “very happy.” But the president of the Rockville organization Hispanics United of Maryland said he has also shared Gutierrez’s frustrations.
“I agree with Ana 100 percent and we here at Hispanics United back her up 100 percent,” Correa said. “We hope that Census 2000 is going to be better than the last census because our community is growing everyday.”
An estimated 100,000 Maryland residents were missed in the 1990 census, including about 8,000 Hispanics in the state. Those numbers come from the Census itself, which estimates that almost half of the overlooked Hispanics in Maryland in the 1990 census were from Montgomery County.
“The Census Bureau has been working with organizations such as mine to reach the Latino community and I think that’s great,” said Correa.
But simply having Hispanic employees in local census offices does not cut it for Gutierrez.
“It’s a step thing,” she said. “First you have to have people there to do the work. But after that, what’s your plan? If we know where the undercounted Hispanics were 10 years ago, then what the hell is being done now to reach them? It’s that simple.
“I don’t think that anything special is being done in the Rockville office to target HTEs (hard-to-enumerate places),”Gutierrez said. “Only we non-profits know how to reach the new immigrants.”
Barnett conceded that “most minority populations are undercounted” in the census. But she said that outreach only recently started and that it is unfair to say the bureau is not doing enough to reach those groups.
“We are gearing up our recruitment efforts and begun as of Nov.1. Before then there was no need to hire more people because we would not have had work for them to do,” she said.
“We have people who are actively recruiting in the HTEs. Those areas have been targeted,” Barnett said.