Only a fool would choose not to be counted April 1

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April Fools’ Day 2010 is going to be a very special day. It is Census Day.

Since 1790, the census has been conducted every 10 years; it’s a constitutional requirement. The Colorado Springs Metropolitan Statistical Area, including El Paso and Teller Counties, has grown 26 percent; from 490,044 in 1998 to 617,714 in 2008, according to the most recent estimates.

Everyone should be counted. Half a billion dollars in federal funding is at stake. In 2000, the last time the census was taken, the local area had a 72 percent response rate. The local goal for the 2010 census is an 82 percent.

Getting everyone counted is imperative to get the $880 per person per year of federal money. The half a billion would be coming over the next 10 years.

All you afraid-of-the government and Jeremiah Johnson types need to be counted. The conspiracy theories are out there about the government’s using the data to do bad things, but those theories are bunk.

The Census Bureau is hyper-confidential. Being counted by the Census Bureau is the law. People working for the Census Bureau, called enumerators (too close to “terminator” if you ask me), are allowed to call armed escorts if they feel they are in danger while trying to get people to cooperate with their legal obligation. Skip the hassle; give the information freely.

There are only 10 questions, covering age, gender, ethnicity and whether you own or rent. That’s it.

The key to getting a higher response rate is to get better cooperation from traditionally hard-to-count, or HTC populations. These consist of non-documented immigrants, ethnic minorities, the linguistically challenged (the politically correct way of saying non-English speaking people), the elderly and even the homeless.

I can see why a person in the community illegally would hesitate to come forward. But those are the very people who stand to benefit from the federal money through programs for the disadvantaged. The data derived from the census help determine where programs for language assistance, training, health, schools, transportation and work force initiatives are needed.

Maybe the data would show what most of us already know: An efficient east-west corridor through the Springs is badly needed.

One step to reach everyone, especially the HTC population, involves schools. Students will be learning about maps, statistics and demographics in the hope they will go home and use their young persuasion techniques on their parents to get them to participate in the census.

Another reason to be accurate in the census is for businesses and nonprofits. Nonprofits need accurate data for grant writing, and businesses for everything from new product roll-outs to advertising campaigns.

For example, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo may want to use Spanish outdoor ads in certain areas to target Spanish-speaking families. The zoo would learn what areas of the city to position “Venga a el Cheyenne Mountain Zoo” versus “Come to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.”

It is hard to put a monetary value of the effect accurate census data will have on businesses, but it will be substantial.

Questionnaires will be arriving in March.

The census data is a key input in determining allocation for a lot of money to the community. Make it count.

Otherwise, the entire area will look like an April Fools’ joke.

Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at Lon.Matejczyk@csbj.com or 329-5026.