Census: Big Brother Anxieties Could Hurt Count

AP, October 2, 2008

Fear of the government in some communities after the Sept. 11 attacks and years of debate over immigration policy could create problems in getting an accurate count of the U.S. population in 2010, the director of the Census Bureau said Thursday.

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To combat people’s hesitancy, the bureau will work with local governments and organizations such as churches and community groups to make sure people understand what the census is and that the data won’t be shared, Murdock said.

Participation in the nation’s count every 10 years is required, but no one has been prosecuted for refusing to respond. Getting an accurate count of everyone who lives in the country is vital because it determines how congressional seats are apportioned and how federal funds are given out, among other things.

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Some people, like those in the country illegally, could hesitate to respond to any kind of government query, especially in an atmosphere in which the debate over immigration is extremely heated.

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“Whatever the live controversies are, they will hit the census,” [Margo Anderson, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee] said. “What we’re going to hit now is the immigration debate and the debate on the war on terror. They need to figure out a way to reassure ordinary people—immigrant or not, legal or not—that it’s OK to fill out a census form.”

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