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“Let’s take a minute to think about how America lives,” Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, director of Census 2000, said to a gathering of students at Boston University today.
“We have people living in igloos, houseboats, tree houses and cabins in the woods,” Prewitt said. “America is not a neat little row of urban houses.” “The census is two things: a count and assigning geography,” Prewitt explained. “The purpose of the census is to let the government know where people are.”
At its peak, Census 2000 will be the third largest advertiser in the United States. It has poured millions into making sure people know its out there and also making sure that people acknowledge they must respond. However, there are several demographic groups, such as Native Americans and Latinos that are difficult to reach Prewitt blames two things for an undercount: attitude and demographics. Demographically, residents who do not live in one place, such as traveling salesmen who primarily live out of a suitcase, are undercounted along with people who have no where to live at all. Likewise, Native Americans have been previously undercounted because the isolation of reservations makes it difficult and expensive for the Census Bureau to get a count.
Attitudinal problems affect people who fear the government, such as illegal
aliens, and people who dislike the government. “We’re trying to talk the country into responding and fulfilling their civic responsibility,” Prewitt said, given the sharp decline in citizen response since the censuses of 1960 and 1970. Census 2000 is not just the government’s scientific exercise or collecting data to redistribute funds and power; this year, the Census Bureau is in partnership with 90,000 community leaders across the country, and the Bureau and the community are sharing the responsibility of getting the right numbers in responses.
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groups.Census 2000 is also different because it is controversial. It is the first
census in American history that gives people the opportunity to identify themselves specifically and multiracially. Prewitt maintained that, given the racial tensions that still exist in America, geographically detailed racial data is important to defending against discrimination. Racial data will also help reform race-based social policy.