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Accurate Census Count Important For San Diego County

The 2010 census will likely make clear how the face of America is rapidly changing from a majority white population to a more ethnically diverse nation. In part two of our census series we look at why getting an accurate count is important for San Diego County.

The face of San Diego County has been rapidly changing over the past 10 years. That change is most evident in urban areas like City Heights in the central part of San Diego, and suburban neighborhoods like National City in the South Bay. The population in these areas is mostly people of color. Census data finds minorities make up half of San Diego's 3 million people. Latinos are the fastest growing population, followed by Asians. You'll find the largest concentration of both groups in National City. It's one of San Diego's oldest neighborhoods.

"I like this town very much because it's small, everybody knows you, and you know everybody," says Luis Natividad, a team leader for the U.S. Census Bureau. "It's a great city."

Natividad is also the father of three girls and several grandchildren. He says over the past 39 years he's seen quite a bit of change in National City.

"Some of the kids I coached now have children of their own, and now I'm coaching their children," he says.

Although the area has a significant drug and gang problem, he says security isn't a concern.

"We still live here, doors are open, you can leave your keys in the car, nothing gets stolen. I'm not going to give the address because people might want to move in here," he laughs, "but the neighbors are great here, they take care of the kids. If I see a kid going wrong I'll have a talk with him, so it's almost like we're all parents."

He uses that same community approach to help the Census Bureau, working with churches and community organizations to get people in hard-to-reach areas counted. He says these organizations "have direct access to those people who were undercounted – people who wonder why we're there... those people who were wondering why're you asking me these questions."

Ralph Marchewka, regional manager for the Census Bureau, says that it's important that everyone be counted. "The census does not ask if you're a citizen, so it doesn't matter if there are people who are undocumented," he says. "We're looking at the count because the count impacts the local area. So the more people we can correctly identify and count the better we'll be able to serve them in the future."

2000 Census San Diego County

• $3 billion total

• $1,200 per person

Here's how it works: for every person counted in the 2000 Census, San Diego County receives $3 billion a year in federal grant money. That's about $1,2000 per person. Most of the money goes to support public health care, schools, employment training, transportation, and housing.

"The information used in each census impacts the next 10 years," says Marchewka. "For deciding or changing legislative districts, and for federal financing to the tune of $400-billion-plus a year."

Despite more resources and better planning, the census missed an estimated 16 million people and double-counted 17 million in the in the U.S. in 2000. And minority communities were disproportionately undercounted. That's what motivated Natividad to work for the Census Bureau.

"So you had two different kinds of people," says Natividad. "It wasn't just minority people or people who were undercounted before, it was people in affluent communities who felt, 'Oh I don't want to do this for the government.'"

So far 70 percent of the households in San Diego County have turned in their census forms, including Natividad – but it didn't stop a census taker from knocking on his door.

"It happens that I know the person," Natividad says, "so as soon as they saw me, they said, 'You forgot to send in your form.' Not only that but if you send it at a certain date after they asked you to, you could still be called on."

Census workers will continue collecting information until July. The bureau releases the first state counts in December. The final numbers are expected early next year.

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