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Census is adding up to headache for some
Count runs smoothly for most part, but long forms causing problems
OHIO - March 20, 2000
BY GEORGE W. DAVIS and Kymberli Hagelberg
CANTON: The nation's once-each-decade numbers game, better known as the U.S. Census, has swung into high gear -- but not without complaints and glitches.
Although just over 80 percent of the people are to complete a seven-question short form, the balance must tackle a 38-page form with a minimum of 53 questions.
``To mail out 120 million forms and to have the few instances of problems like we've had, to me, is just miraculous,'' Doug Lane, area manager for the U.S. Census' Canton area, said last week. Lane's territory covers Stark, Wayne, Medina and Holmes counties.
But others are expressing frustration and displeasure over the long forms because of the size and questions concerning personal finances and lifestyles.
Some residents have complained that their forms were incomplete -- missing some pages and having duplicates of others.
Akron family practice physician Dr. Kelli Sabin said her copy of the long form was an incomprehensible jumble of pages and incomplete questionnaires.
``Pages 1 through 4 of our booklet were in order, but then it Please see Census, A10 Census
Data used to dole out funds to communities
Continued from Page A1 jumped to 13, 14, 15 and then to 20, then back to 15 again,'' she said. ``We have four people, but the book went from Person 1 to Person 3 halfway through the questions. When the numbers jumped backward from 28 to 15, I had to toss it.''
Although Sabin gave up on her form, she didn't give up on the census.
After a fruitless search of the census' Internet site, she tried the Census 2000 help line: 1-800-471-9424. Operators are on duty in each time zone from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., census authorities said.
Sabin, who had tried the hot line six times the night before, saw patients while an associate let the line ring on speaker phone the next morning. ``We tried that number another four times before they answered and the total time they had us on the phone was seven minutes.''
The associate talked to the census representative, who promised to mail a new questionnaire within a week.
Sabin fears not everyone will take the trouble she and her staff did.
``We had to be really persistent to get a new one. Other people might just deep-six the thing and forget it.''
Some have asked their private tax accountants to help with the financial sections. A couple said they were told by their tax preparers that the tax preparers were too busy trying to meet the IRS' April 17 income tax filing deadline to touch a census form.
Canton's Lane, a Census worker for 18 months, said area staffers have fielded questions concerning the personal nature of the questions, why the census information is important and some concerning missing pages.
``Usually, when we are done talking to them, the callers understand the importance and are very cooperative,'' he said.
What questions aren't completed will be turned over to field representatives, who will try up to six times to complete the information package. Those workers don't go into the field until the end of April, Lane said.
Kim Hunter, a U.S. Census media specialist for the Detroit region covering Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia, said the census has been more than a head count for 100 years.
``In essence, it's about money and power,'' Hunter said.
Not only is the census important in determining Congressional apportionment, but figures help determine how about $200 billion annually is returned to communities from the federal government.
``Roads, schools, some entitlement programs, hospitals, fire stations, traffic lights. You name it, those things are all affected by the census count,'' he said.
Hunter said most financial data requested either is part of the federal itemized income tax form or should be readily available from household records.
Hunter said that although there is a $100 fine for not completing the form, the fine has never been levied.
``People don't respond to coercion when they are filling out a form with personal data,'' Hunter said. ``We get a better response by showing how the information helps their schools, their communities and everyone around them.''
Lane said questions about earnings have been a part of the questionnaire since 1940, while a question about the number of bedrooms was added in 1960. Marital status was asked first in 1880. The newest question concerns grandparents as caregivers because there are so many of them and the Congress mandated the question as part of the Welfare Act of 1996, he said.
George W. Davis can be reached at 330-478-6000 (Ext. 20) or 1-800-478-5445 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kymberli Hagelberg can be reached at 330-478-6000 (Ext. 14) or 1-800-478-5445 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 20, 2000