A Conversation with US Census Rep William Harfmann

Posted on 19 February 2010

web Census Guy Harfman

By Marissa Maier

The 2010 U.S. Census is kicking off in March and this week the Express sat down with U.S. Census Long Island Regional Manager William Harfmann to talk about why the census matters and what it could mean to the 2012 presidential election.

Why does the census matter?

The census is a snapshot of our country every 10 years. It is mandated by the Congress and by the Constitution. It has been done since 1790. This gives the count of the population. With the count comes the allocation of Congressional seats in the U.S. The census shows the number of people inside our borders. We send a survey and its called “10 questions in 10 minutes.”

What kind of questions do you ask?

In 10 minutes, we ask if they own or rent their house, their name, their age, their background. It is only 10 questions but these questions show the make up of a community. On the East End of Long Island, we are doing an “update and enumerate” [meaning going door to door to give the survey] which is a little different than the mail back form. In other regions of New York state, we are doing the mail back. On the East End there is a high vacancy rate because of the seasonal nature of the community. On Long Island . . . we do the “update and enumerate” because so many people here don’t get mail delivered to their homes. We will be going out to the entire North Fork and South Fork beginning on March 16. They do this [the update and enumerate] in Alaska too . . . We want to make sure we do the best job. We knock on every door and if you are a homeowner or renter you will be counted in this way.

About how many homes will the census takers visit on the East End?

About 90,000 houses. It takes about 10 weeks. We will be employing 1,500 people on the East End to do this. You can schedule to take a test. It is a half-hour test. We make it convenient for people to be tested in their community. We hire for the community by the community. Where do you live?

North Haven

Well then we would want to hire you for North Haven. You know that area. You are 100 percent in that area. We need about 1,500 or so people to do this. We will be hiring very shortly. There is a paid four-day training. We have supervisory positions, which we call crew leaders and we reach out to our communities so the work is right in their communities.

How much does the census cost?

The cost is based on a lot of things, a lot of different unknowns, meaning the cost is based on people sending the forms back. We push to have the public respond in this form. For every percentage point [of response] it costs around $80 million. As an example, if 75 percent of people [in New York State] mail back their forms, it costs about $80 million per percentage point for the mailed back forms. If they don’t mail back the forms, then beginning in late April, after we give them some time, we go out and in about eight weeks we do the same thing we will be doing on the East End [in terms of] gathering information.

What is new about this census?

There is no longer the long form. There was a long form [survey] in the past and a short form. There were more and more questions and now there are 10. The long form was called the American Community survey. It is a sent to a sampling of people through the entire 10 years [between the census]. In order to move the census along, we use the short form of these 10 questions. And another thing [that is new] is the “update and enumerate.” We have an extensive partnership program that reaches out to all groups of the community. We reach the faith based groups, the language groups, to make them aware of the necessity and need of the census count.

I heard that this is the first year same-sex households will be counted in the census. Is this true?

I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Will the census effect the 2012 elections?

What we do is by the end of the year by December 31, the census has to be on the President’s desk. That is the deadline for the count. In 2011, the allocation of Congressional districts is based on populations. I can’t go any further than that. I can’t say how the population is going to change until we do a count. I can only tell you that every house on the East End of Long Island will be answered for.

Given that the census is being taken in 2010, in the wake of one of the most dramatic financial meltdowns since the Great Depression. Do you think the census will paint a picture of the economic times we are living in and how that affects the movement of populations?

Well, the census is mandated. I don’t think anything will be shown except the progress that has been made and the monies involved in the $400 billion plus of dollars that will improve our communities. I think it will show the growth of the population and the growth of necessary services.

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