East End lagging state, country in U.S. Census form returns

04/15/2010 12:00 AM |

For the past few weeks, local census-takers have been leaving behind notices like this at homes where no one answers their knock – and some people are ignoring them.

You might have filed your taxes on time this week, but have you bothered to call your local census-taker back?

If so, you’re in the minority.

Nearly a month into the 21st U.S. Census, only about a third of the residents of the North and South forks have responded to a door-to-door operation called Update Enumerate, which began March 22 and will run until May 29, said Patricia Valle, an assistant regional census manager.

But the sooner people respond, the better, Ms. Valle said.

“For every 1 percent of people across the country who do not respond, where we have to go back and knock on doors, that’s almost $80 million [in tax dollars] that we have to collect,” she said. “That is almost debilitating, especially given the fact that with 10 questions, this is the shortest census we have ever given.”

The door-to-door operation was launched instead of the traditional mailing method because of specific challenges the East End posed, such as weekenders and a large number of residents who use post office boxes.

Though the 900 census workers on the East End, known as enumerators, have met with some resistance due to mistrust of the government, Ms. Valle added that lack of response on the Twin Forks has more specifically to do with the proliferation of seasonal vacancies in the area. Therefore, the process takes longer and local enumerators will have to make several follow-up visits to “obtain information from every address,” Ms. Valle said.

“People might be there on the weekend,” she said. “We’ll collect information from the neighbors if there is no one there.”

Part of the goals of Update Enumerate, which was launched on the East End this year for the first time ever in order to get a more accurate count in the area, is also to “update the geography of the area,” Ms. Valle said.

“There’s been a lot of new construction, and if a person has done something like convert a garage into an apartment, we’ll add the address to the file,” she said.

While Census Bureau workers are not allowed to speak to the press due to strict confidentiality requirements, Ms. Valle said most are happy to be in a flexible, temporary, $18-an-hour job.

“It’s a great job for stay-at-home moms and retired people,” Ms. Valle said. “They just have to complete a certain percentage of work spread out over seven days. It’s flexible in the sense that you can make your own hours, but you do have to be available in the evenings and on the weekends.”

The Census Bureau hires only people who live in the community to work in the community, she said.

“You have to know the island and feel comfortable,” she said. “You can’t take a city slicker and put them on a dirt road. You’ve got to know the locale.”

Because of the on-the-ground nature of the census count on the East End, those who are curious cannot track the day-to-day local response rate on www.2010.census.gov. But as of Tuesday afternoon, New York State was lagging behind the top five states in participation rates. (See info box.)

“New York is usually behind in the census, but we always seem to pull it out in the end,” Ms. Valle said. “A lot of people hold on to their census forms until April 1. We’re expecting to see a little bump over the weekend.”

[email protected]

Top-responding states in the 2010 U.S. Census … and New York

(as of Tuesday, April 13)

1. Wisconsin — 77 percent

2. Minnesota — 75 percent

3. Iowa — 74 percent

4. Michigan — 72 percent

5. Nebraska — 72 percent

47. New York — 60 percent