Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

A knock on the door can mean many things: the arrival of a friend, the delivery of a package, the surprise of a novelty check. But in 2010, you can expect the census to come knocking as well.

This March, a census questionnaire will be sent to every household across the country in order to quantify growing population areas and redraw district lines for the succeeding decade.

Santa Cruz’s Complete Count Committee is working on ensuring a more accurate count than in past decades. City Councilmember Cynthia Mathews said the committee is performing an important service for the city.

“It’s the Complete Count Committee that’s doing the community and grassroots work to get the word out,” Mathews said.

Santa Cruz is one of many communities across the country, including Watsonville and Live Oak, to introduce the Complete Count Committee for this year’s census.

The committees meet monthly to discuss outreach to “hard-to-count groups” like the homeless, college students and immigrants.

Santa Cruz’s committee meets monthly and is composed of members from a variety of different organizations around the area, including the Familia Center, Homeless Services Center, Americorps, and the Santa Cruz Bible Church. Currently, nine people sit on the committee, with over 30 people working under them in subcommittees and organizations.

It’s important that every area gets its numbers right, especially during hard financial times. Every person counted guarantees $1,476 a year toward the community.

“There are billions and billions of dollars at federal and state level that are dispersed to communities on a basis of the census,” Mathews said. “That’s money being used for housing, education, growth and proper transit. So we want to get a complete count so we get our fair share of money.”

The other reason cities and counties strive for a complete population count is so that growing areas of population are represented accurately in Congress. California is in danger of losing a seat because of waning growth in the state. That vote may have to be given up to a state that has larger population growth, like Texas.

“It’s so important,” said Kymberly Lacrosse, coordinator of the Complete Count Committee. “It’s used on so many different levels. For long-term planning your local officials are using census data to figure out your highways or school systems. That’s why getting an accurate count is so important.”

Lacrosse was hired to coordinate the committee in July of last year. She said that a major difference between the last census and this one is that the city started outreach early.

There are hurdles to be jumped, however, when it comes to getting a complete count this decade as compared to the last.

“Ten years ago, money was coming in from the state and federal levels, and it was used for outreach, and now there is no money,” Lacrosse said. “Zero.”

Despite this financial shortfall, the U.S. Census Bureau continues to work toward getting a complete count. The bureau prints the census questionnaire in six different languages including English, provides language assistance guides for 59 languages, and hires partnership staff capable of addressing problems in 101 languages across the United States. This is to ensure that immigrant populations are being addressed properly.

“There is a cultural difference from 10 years ago,” said Karen Mallory, partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau. “There are more people working for the census to overcome these cultural boundaries. It’s really fantastic, having people looking at the issue from all different angles.”

Mallory started doing census outreach in July 2009. The partnership she works for labored during the last census to get a 3 percent increase in responses, and Mallory is looking for even better numbers this time around.

One of the main groups she targets are immigrant populations.

“There is a lot of anti-immigrant propaganda out there that makes people feel like they aren’t wanted in the country and in the census,” Mallory said. “But especially for people who can’t vote … it’s so important. It’s your voice and it’s being counted.”