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Hannah Landon had been wondering for several months why she hadn’t received a census form in the mail. But when a census worker showed up at her door last Saturday, she realized she had seen the form before after all.
“I threw it out a couple times,” Landon said. “I kept thinking it was junk mail. I get so much junk, and I just threw it away with the rest before I really looked at it.”
For the past five months, the United States Census Bureau has worked to encourage everyone to return the census forms by mail. As of May 1, however, those mail-in census forms became null and void. Instead, census workers hit the pavement, going door-to-door in an effort to count, and collect demographic information from all those who did not return their census forms by mail.
So far, an estimated 70 percent of people in Los Angeles have returned their census forms — very close to the statewide rate of return, 71 percent, and the national rate, 72 percent.
However, participation varies widely across different areas of the city and the county. The “Hollywood Alcove” has a 65 percent return rate. But within that area, participation in West Hollywood is at 66 percent, Hollywood neighborhood is at 59 percent, Miracle Mile is at 57 percent, and Hancock Park is at 74 percent.
Traditionally, Los Angeles has been severely undercounted in the census. According to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, approximately 76,800 Angelenos were not counted in the 2000 census, which cost the city $206 million over the past decade.
To try to count more than a million Angelenos who did not return the census forms in the mail between now and mid-July when the count officially ends, census enumerators have been strategically deployed. In the Hollywood Alcove, 993 enumerators are going door-to-door for an average of 20 hours per week, mostly in the late afternoons and evenings, and on weekends, when more people are at home. Enumerators will visit each non-responsive address up to three times, after which they will try to find other methods to contact whoever lives there.
Los Angeles Census Manager, Al Fontenot, said this early in the door-to-door phase, the Census Bureau is still trying to find what strategies work best.
“We went out for the first time on Saturday,” Fontenot said. “Right now, we’re just trying to get our arms around what’s out there, and look at what’s effective.”
Fontenot named several reasons why people were less likely to be counted in some areas than in others. For instance, communities with a higher percentage of renters, like West Hollywood, tend to have a lower response rate than communities of homeowners, like Hancock Park. Immigrant communities are among the most undercounted, with language barriers and distrust of government rendering many people disinclined or unable to respond to the census.
“We’re getting initial reports from offices that one of the problems people have encountered is that in some of the immigrant communities, this new Arizona law has made people fearful of any government representative,” Fontenot said. “Even though we tell them we don’t share census data with anyone, they’re still suspicious.”
To help reach out to these hard-to-count communities, the Census Bureau employs partnership specialists who can speak the language and work with trusted figures in the community.
Israel Stepanian has worked with the Hollywood Complete Count Committee for more than a year. As an Armenian, he said he has reached out to that community through the Armenian Chamber of Commerce, which has a chapter in Hollywood.
“The chamber is the best way to get people involved,” Stepanian said. “I’ve also visited two Armenian churches, and two schools. And we’ve had two articles about the census in Armenian newspapers. Anytime there is an Armenian event, I go and promote the census, and let people know that they should open the door for enumerators. We’re doing as much as we can to get everyone counted.”
Stepanian said he thought Armenian participation was better than it had been 10 years ago, but still lagged behind the citywide average.
“Some people don’t know the language, which makes it difficult for them,” Stepanian said. “Next time, perhaps they will have the census form in Armenian. People also have preconceived notions about how government works. When they come from countries in the Soviet world, they have a distrust of the government, and that’s an issue as well.”
Efforts have also been made to count Hollywood’s homeless population in the census. On March 29 – 31, enumerators went out across the city to homeless shelters, and looked for people sleeping on the streets. Fontenot said the results of that count were not yet available.
Anyone who didn’t return the form by mail and hasn’t been visited by an enumerator can call (866)872-6868 to complete the census questionnaire by phone. More information is available at www.2010census.gov.
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