WASHINGTON – It may be a year before the 2010 census, but Maryland residents should start seeing preliminary work happening in their neighborhoods in as little as two weeks.
The first public preparation for the 2010 census kicks off April 6, with census workers hitting the streets to update a comprehensive database of residential Maryland addresses.
Of the three Maryland census offices, only two, Largo and Frederick, will begin address canvassing on that date. The Baltimore office should get started by mid-April.
Start dates in Maryland differ because of the offices’ varying progress in hiring and training staff, said Monica Davis, media specialist with the Philadelphia Regional Census Center.
Maryland census offices have reached their hiring goals for address canvassing, according to Davis, and are now contacting people to begin a required five-day training course.
“Each office requires about 500 to 600 employees, about 1,500 total, just for the address canvassing operation,” Davis said. “It’s the largest census operation we have in 2009.”
Nationwide, the address verification project will employ 140,000 census workers to check about 145 million home addresses.
Census officials say this phase should require little contact between residents and census workers.
“Their purpose is to go street to street to identify where people live,” said census media specialist Bill Reed. “They’re confirming that a building is a house and not something else, like a shop. They only time that they’ll knock on the door … is if the building is listed as something other than a residence.”
Census workers might also contact residents to ask if there are other living quarters on a property, Reed said.
The census workers, or “address listers,” as they’re being called for this task, will carry handheld computers to update an address database that will later be used for mailing the actual census forms.
The computers also allow census workers to enter exact GPS coordinates for each structure. It’s a critical feature to improve census data accuracy for things like political redistricting, said Stephen Buckner, census spokesman.
“Although the 2000 census was heralded as the most accurate census ever, there were still some ‘geocoding errors’ — homes coded to the wrong jurisdiction,” Buckner said. “Instead of putting a pencil point on a map to try to accurately reflect where a house is, now we’re using satellite-based technology.”
This is the first time census workers will use handheld computers. While the technology should increase the ease and accuracy of data gathering, there’s always the chance of unforeseen glitches, Reed said.
Address listers undergo a five-day training that includes instruction on using the equipment to minimize problems.
But Maryland also faces other difficulties, such as its high rate of home foreclosures, which complicate census-taking efforts.
One of the biggest concerns for 2010 is getting an accurate count in traditionally undercounted populations, like poverty-stricken areas and immigrant communities.
“We have a high concentration of efforts directly targeted to what have been undercounted communities,” Reed said. “There is a tremendous thrust working with community leaders, community media, church groups and service groups in order to eliminate the undercount.”
The address-canvassing phase is expected to wrap up in July, followed by “group quarters validation,” when census workers verify who’s living in places like college dorms, prisons and hospitals. Census forms will be mailed in March 2010, and Census Day, when workers go around collecting the data, is April 1, 2010.