Wednesday, March 31, 2010
It only takes a couple of minutes and you'll be helping your community and your nation. That's what all the commercials and advertising have been telling us about the 2010 census. Filling out the form and returning it is required by law but if you don't, you should expect to get a visit from a census taker. The government is that serious about getting an accurate head count. We'll answer your census questions and find out how this year's count is going. We'll also learn about the history behind collecting information about race and ethnicity.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. 10 questions in 10 minutes, that's the tag line for the 2010 U.S. Census. This year's census form is the shortest since the headcount began back in 1790. But national and local officials will be quick to tell you this streamlined version is just as important as ever. The numbers gathered by the census will affect everything from legislative districts to planning boards to charity work for the next 10 years. To find out how the information is collected and used here in San Diego, I'd like to welcome my guests. Robert Borboa is U.S. Census Media Specialist for San Diego County. Robert, welcome to These Days.
ROBERT BORBOA (U.S. Census Bureau Media Specialist, San Diego County): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: And Kristen Rohanna is senior research analyst and manager of the Regional Census Data Center for SANDAG. Kristen, good morning.
KRISTEN ROHANNA (Senior Research Analyst, Regional Census Data Center): Thank you. Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: I’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you have a question about this year’s census? What was asked or maybe what was not asked? Call us with your census questions and comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Robert, do we know yet if we’re getting any kind of good rate of compliance and mail-backs for this year’s census.
BORBOA: Yeah, we’re definitely making strides as compared to the last decennial census, and obviously we’re looking for the most accurate count possible for this decennial census. But it’s moving along. We’re promoting different campaigns. We’re putting different programs in effect. And also, you know, we’re continuing to, you know, pound that message through PSAs about returning the questionnaire…
BORBOA: …as soon as possible.
CAVANAUGH: Now, remind us why we need to take a census every 10 years. Why do we have to have one and what is it used for?
BORBOA: Okay, well, that’s a – it’s very simple. You know, it’s the cornerstone of our American democracy. Article I, Section II of the Constitution requires that an actual enumeration be made within three years after the meeting of the Congress of the United States. So the first census was in 1790. There are only two mandates in the Constitution, one is to have the postal service, the other one was to have a census. And so the importance of that has remained throughout the history of our country.
CAVANAUGH: So, Robert, what information is asked in this census survey?
BORBOA: Well, we’ve – this is some of the survey’s – and this is a very historic survey in that there’s only 10 questions on the survey and it’s the shortest survey in the history of the census. And what we’re basically asking for is how many people live in your home, what is their origin, their national origin race, and those are the basic questions that we’re asking in the census.
CAVANAUGH: Now how were those question (sic) determined? Who comes up with what we’re going to be asked in the census?
BORBOA: Oh, Washington, D.C. does…
BORBOA: …and the Census Bureau. You know, they want to be able to collect data which is most significant and which is more – which is the most important part of what we want to do initially to recognize and to identify what the demographics are of our country. What is the portrait of our country. What is the image on Census Day, on April first. You know, a snapshot of our country, what is it? What does it consist of?
CAVANAUGH: Interesting. Kristen, I want to ask you. What do we know from previous census, what do we know about the characteristics of San Diego County based on census data?
ROHANNA: Well, the characteristics are constantly changing but we’ve seen probably a lot of growth in the last decade from Census 2000, you know, up to about now. The area has grown significantly. We’ve also seen a demographic change over the years. We’re starting to see more of a Hispanic population, which is, you know, probably obvious, well known in the area. And then we’ve also seen, you know, people of – the population’s aging. And so we want to take that into account and we want to know all those changing demographics so we can better plan for the area and make sure we have programs, you know, like senior citizen centers and so forth for that changing population.
CAVANAUGH: Is that how SANDAG uses census data? Basically to make plans for the future?
ROHANNA: I would say that’s the number one reason. SANDAG uses census data for a variety of reasons. I mean, we talk about census data, we’re talking about 2010 census data and then there’s also another program called the American Community Survey, but…
CAVANAUGH: Right, I want to talk about that, too, yeah.
ROHANNA: …but when we talk about just 2010 census data and those 10 questions that Robert spoke about, we’re really talking about population count data and then age and ethnicity, race data, and that we use – the number one reason we use it at SANDAG is really as a base or a benchmark for our population estimate data and our population forecast data. For population forecast data, we kind of predict out into the future where the growth will occur and what that growth will look like. And so we give that data to local cities in the county and so forth and they use that to plan for where growth is going to occur or maybe there’s decreases and so forth.
CAVANAUGH: For fire stations and community organizations and things of that nature.
ROHANNA: Exactly. Exactly.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
ROHANNA: Anywhere where it’s needed to know where you might have more people than you had in the past.
CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls about the census. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call from Lydia in Carlsbad. Good morning, Lydia. Welcome to These Days.
LYDIA (Caller, Carlsbad): Hi there. I have been listening to some radio stations where I hear people who perhaps are immigrants or they have immigrant family and they ask why do you need to give your address and it makes them very suspicious and you get the sense that, you know, they don’t want to participate. And I sometimes think that your answers aren’t complete enough because I know that, for instance, as a journalist, I’ve used census information. You don’t have people’s names but if you know their ethnic background or other information, you can tell, you know, something about patterns, of health patterns, so, in other words, it’s not just used for – to get money but all – you know, there are all sorts of agencies that use it, including journalists that help them do research to find out where problems are and genealogists. I know I think you do relate – release the names after, you know, a certain number of years, 70 years or something and it helps – It helps people in all sorts of different ways and so I think the – a little more complete answer would address the concerns that people have about giving their addresses.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, let’s see if we can get a little more complete answer. Robert, would you like to respond to Lydia’s question?
BORBOA: Well, yes. One of the things that is important is that we are – the address in which we are sending the questionnaire, you know, is, you know, correlates to the people who live there. So it’s really a confirmation of the address as it corresponds to the person who lives there or who owns the property or who is – and that’s what helps us and allows us to verify.
CAVANAUGH: Robert, I wonder if – Do you get any feedback from people who are perhaps concerned about sending out that kind of information? Returning the census because they perhaps don’t want the government to know the information that the census is asking for?
BORBOA: Yes. No, absolutely we do, and one of the things that we stress in all, you know, in all of our messages to the community is that, you know, our more information is we are protected by Title 13, the confidentiality clause in the U.S. Code. And so, therefore, you know, the census information that is gathered is not shared by any other agency in the – within the government; that includes the Office of the Presidency. So we take an oath. The information is sealed for 72 years in terms of, you know, how it corresponds to a person, you know, giving that information, you know, whatever information they gave on the census questionnaire. And so, therefore, no one can get that information for 72 years.
CAVANAUGH: I see. So in other words, it’s not labeled by an actual person’s identity for 72 years.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Let’s take another call. Alan is calling from La Jolla. Good morning, Alan. Welcome to These Days.
ALAN (Caller, La Jolla): Hello?
CAVANAUGH: Hi, Alan.
ALAN: Oh, we’ve had our kitchen torn up for the past several weeks and I’m – we’ve had a plumbing problem here and I’m afraid that the questionnaire, which was lying on the kitchen table, has disappeared. And can I get another questionnaire?
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s find out, Alan. Robert, Alan lost his census form. Can he get another one?
BORBOA: Yes, absolutely. What you can do, you have several options. You can call – your easiest option is to go to your nearest library and they will have a, what they call, a question and answer center, and there you can get your census form.
BORBOA: And that’s the easiest way to do it. Secondly, there is going to be – if there is a non-response by actually today, a second questionnaire will be sent out to those people who have not sent in their questionnaire so…
CAVANAUGH: Right, this is the first time…
CAVANAUGH: …that there’s a second mailing, right?
BORBOA: Yes, that is correct. And so – and I don’t remember what the gentleman’s name is but if he waits a little bit, he’ll get a second questionnaire. If not, then go to your local library or check with your local census office and they will direct you to the closest place where we have a question and a – a question and answer center.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Robert, Kristen mentioned something called the American Community Survey, and I believe it’s because of this survey that we’re seeing so few questions on the U.S. Census this time around. Tell us about the American Community Survey and what it is.
BORBOA: Yeah, and I will talk about it but I will talk about it briefly because I don’t want it to get – I don’t want the audience and people to get confused between the ACS, the American Community Survey, and our current decennial questionnaire. But…
BORBOA: …this is what it is. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey lets communities see how they are changing from year to year, filling in gaps between each 10-year census. So the American Community Survey is an on-going survey of about 3 million households annually that replaced the former once-a-decade census longform. And about 2% of all households nationwide, you know, receive the ACS survey, the American Community Survey. And answering both is important so that leaders and planners in your community if you, in fact, get both of the – if, in fact, you, you know, get the ACS, you know, it’s important to get it – to send it back because it provides the community with accurate data to make better informed decisions like Kristen said before.
CAVANAUGH: Right. And let me just ask a follow-up question to you, Kristen. So all that information that every 10 people used to get on the U.S. census form about how many refrigerators you have and all of that stuff, that’s now in this American Community Survey that just a small fraction of people receive each year.
ROHANNA: Exactly. Exactly. The information about income or educational attainment or how you drive to – how you get to work, do you drive, take transit, that is in the American Community Survey. So there probably are a lot of people out there in the audience that thought, hey, in census 2000 I received this much longer form, what happened to all those questions? That moved to the American Community Survey.
CAVANAUGH: That’s very interesting. And I wanted to…
BORBOA: And, Maureen, just to…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, Robert.
BORBOA: Just to follow up on that…
BORBOA: …and Kristen, you know, made an excellent point so that -- but, you know, the American Community Survey, you know, has, you know, it allows for data to be collected on social characteristics, on economic characteristics, housing characteristics, demographic characteristics, and all of this are – is demographic data which is used, you know, in – for housing, for administrative questions to help verify accuracy in the number of people living in the house. So it’s just – it’s an ongoing survey, and it’s an ongoing, you know, really kind of a film reel of where our country is going and what it’s doing and how it’s diversifying as it’s evolving in the next 10 years.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Tami is calling us from Hillcrest. Good morning, Tami. Welcome to These Days.
TAMI (Caller, Hillcrest): Thank you for taking my call. My comment is regarding the LGBT inclusion in this year’s census. I read online that the government is interested in how we view ourselves and our relationships so, as an example, if we have two male people living in a household, even if you’re not legally married, they are interested in seeing if you are male – two males and married to get an accurate representation of how we view ourselves, not necessarily how we are viewed under the law. My only comment here is that that is a big step forward, maybe not for accuracy but, you know, at least for how we view ourselves. But there’s still an issue with the transgender representation in that the only option under sex are male or female and sometimes if your legal sex may be female but you are presenting as male and your whole life you’re living as male and everybody views you as male, it’s a little bit unclear which option they’re supposed to pick for the sake of accuracy. But still commending a great job for inclusive of LGBT people on the census this year.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you for that comment, Tami. Let me take another call. Ann is calling from Point Loma. Good morning, Ann. Welcome to These Days.
ANN (Caller, Point Loma): Good morning. I’m curious about a large contingent of the population in San Diego that lives on a boat. I’ve been living on a boat since 1996. I haven’t seen a census form this year. I have – I’m registered to vote. My driver’s license is through a mail service that we usually use to get our mail. How do you handle people who don’t living in traditional housing?
CAVANAUGH: Ah, Robert.
BORBOA: Yes, it’s a perfect question because that’s what we are currently – that’s one of our campaigns that we are currently undertaking right now and that includes counting people who are in temporary shelters and who are temporarily displaced and who do not have an address. And what we call this is group quarters, under the group quarters count. And it’s also called the targeted, non-sheltered outdoor locations. And that falls under, you know, anyone living on a boat, you know, in the harbor and that also goes under that particular campaign. And so there will be enumerators that will be coming out and either leaving you a questionnaire or they may – or you may like to leave the information or give them the information at that point.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I know that this is your very, very busy time of year, Robert, and I want to thank you so much for joining us today and speaking to us about the census. Robert Borboa is U.S. Census Media Specialist for San Diego County. Thank you, Robert.
BORBOA: Thank you very much.
CAVANAUGH: Kristen Rohanna is senior research analyst and manager of the Regional Census Data Center for SANDAG. And thanks for bringing it home and telling us how we use the data here.
ROHANNA: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Now we are going to continue to talk about the census, especially the subject of race and ethnicity on the 2010 census form, and we’ll continue to take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And we’re continuing our conversation about the 2010 census, now with a focus on the race and ethnicity questions on the form. Joining me now is Dr. Bey-Ling Sha. She is an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State. She teaches public relations courses and conducts research on organizations and identities. For the 2000 census, Dr. Sha was a public affairs officer with the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. And, Dr. Sha, welcome to These Days.
DR. BEY-LING SHA (Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Media Studies, San Diego State University): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Good morning. And we are still taking your calls. As I say, the focus now is on the race and ethnicity questions on the 2010 census form. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Dr. Sha, what is the importance of collecting the racial and ethnic data on the U.S. Census? What’s the race data used for?
DR. SHA: Well, race data are used for a variety of reasons. First, they’re used to figure out the best locations for government services and government programs. This could be things like language assistance or specialized healthcare programs. The second thing that race data are used for is really to make sure that the government itself and its own agencies are in compliance with our various laws. For example the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, all those acts specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of race. And for the government to make sure that its own agencies are not discriminating on the basis of race, we need to know race data.
CAVANAUGH: I see. So in other words, in order to know that the government is not discriminating on the basis of race, we have to know how many people of different racial backgrounds there are.
DR. SHA: That’s right. Let me give you an example of that.
DR. SHA: So say, for example, that you know a particular community has, oh, let’s just say 16% Vietnamese living in that…
DR. SHA: …particular community and there is one apartment complex, however, that consistently reports only 5% Vietnamese. Well, then that apartment complex potentially would be in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
CAVANAUGH: So is that why community leaders are getting involved in helping to make sure various communities actually submit the census data?
DR. SHA: Yes, I’m sure that’s one of the reasons. And the second reason that community leaders want to make sure that people fill out that particular race and ethnicity question is, of course, just community pride. We want to make sure that everybody is counted and that the numbers are accurate.
CAVANAUGH: Dr. Sha, give us a little history lesson on how racial and ethnic data has been collected by the U.S. Census during the time between 1790 and now.
DR. SHA: Well, it’s a very long history…
DR. SHA: …as you know. A couple points that I think I would make to that is the race question has been asked since the very first census so obviously from the beginning of our country, the government has been concerned with race data. I think the second point that I would make with regard to the history of the race question is that the race question really, over the years, is a reflection on our society and what the concerns of the society are. Every 10 years that question is asked in a different way, and when you look historically at how the question is asked, it reflects the things going on in our society at that time. The third point that I would make with regard to the history of the race and ethnicity question is that we are so lucky today to be able to self-identify how we see ourselves on the census with regards to our race and our ethnicity. Prior to the 1970 census, race data was collected by census takers going door to door and those census takers collected race data, quote, by observation, end quote. So in other words, somebody came to your door and they decided what you looked like and that’s what they put down on the census form to identify you. And today we have the opportunity to identify ourselves, and I think that’s really important.
CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And let’s take a call right now. Elaine is calling us from downtown San Diego. Good morning, Elaine. Welcome to These Days. Elaine, are you there?
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: No, my name isn’t Elaine.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, what is your question, please?
CALLER: My question is, I want to know how I can access census information that’s available for the public. I guess it would be the 72 years ago one.
CAVANAUGH: You want to know how you can access the information from 72 years ago, the census, is that your question?
CALLER: If that’s the most recent one that I can access publicly that’s been released. Yes, the most recent released census data.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Dr. Sha, I don’t know if you know the answer to that. I know that you worked with the Census Bureau in 2000. How do people get ahold of old census information?
DR. SHA: Well, actually I would like to answer that.
DR. SHA: And I think that an important clarification needs to be made that Robert didn’t get an opportunity to talk about. There’s census data for individuals and then there’s census data for people as a whole group.
DR. SHA: Census data for individuals is held confidential for 72 years. After that, they are released through the National Archives. So if you go to the National Archives website, there should be a place either under genealogy or under census data where you can access that information. Now group data does not have your personal information, and group data from the 2010 census will be available starting as early as this December and that will be released through the Census Bureau website.
CAVANAUGH: Certainly. But if you wanted to find out perhaps if you were looking for a specific person at a specific address, you’d have to go to very old census data, 72 years or earlier, is that right?
DR. SHA: That’s absolutely correct.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let’s take another call. Irma is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Irma. Welcome to These Days. Irma, are you on the line?
IRMA (Caller, San Diego): Yes, I’m on the line. Thank you. My question is, I didn’t know how to answer the race question. I marked white because there wasn’t – just wasn’t a category that said – and it said not Hispanic. So if she could briefly explain what white, I mean, means. What does that mean?
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Irma. And I think this opens up a larger question, Dr. Sha. Just taking a look at the way the race and ethnicity was presented on the 2010 census, can you give us an idea – it looked – on the face of it, it looks quite complicated.
DR. SHA: Well, it is quite complicated and that’s because race and ethnicity are very complicated issues. On the census form for this year, there are two questions, one regarding ethnicity, which is essentially Spanish origin and then a second question regarding race. The two-question answer for race and ethnicity really only came into existence in 1970. Prior to that, race and ethnicity were both asked on the exact same question. With regard to the caller’s question as to how she should fill it out, really you need to fill out the census form the way you feel that you are. And if you think that none of those answer options accurately describe how you see yourself, then you need to check off ‘other’ and you need to write in how you see yourself. My husband’s a great example of this. He’s from France but he’s from the region of France called Alsace, which runs back and forth between France and Germany. He definitely doesn’t see himself as German but he doesn’t really think he’s French, and he wanted to check off ‘other’ on the last census and put in Alsatian.
CAVANAUGH: I see. But before – if you do check white, is – the list of countries is rather limited, isn’t it, for people of a white – who identify as white? As opposed to the countries for people of foreign origin.
DR. SHA: Yes, that’s absolutely correct. Those racial categories are actually given to the Census Bureau by the Office of Management and Budget. And the question is always how can we figure out, you know, what the specific label options are.
DR. SHA: The answer to that really is, you know, you can contact someone at the Office of Management and Budget and give them your input. Alternatively, the Census Bureau has several race and ethnic advisory committees and you might be able to reach someone at a race and ethnic advisory committee and see if they could offer input with regard to that. What it really comes down to is there’s no big group of, say, Irish-Americans who are lobbying to be counted as Irish.
CAVANAUGH: Right. That’s very true. That must be quite some job, put – deciding what goes on the census form. How long does that take to do, do you have any idea, Dr. Sha?
DR. SHA: I don’t have an idea specific to the race question but I can tell you that even though the census is taken every 10 years, the Census Bureau actually looks at the census in a 16-year cycle. It takes 12 years of research going into a particular census and then 4 years of evaluation after the census to figure everything out.
CAVANAUGH: You know, there are some races as were mentioned – there are some ethnic identities that are not identified at all. San Diego has a very large Somali population, for instance. What, indeed, would be the steps to have that included on the next census?
DR. SHA: Well, for the next census, I think a good place to start would be to contact the African-American Race and Ethnic Advisory Committee for the Census Bureau and to have some of those people who are national community leaders, opinion leaders, take up your cause and bring it to the attention of census leaders.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Reginald is calling us from Oceanside. Good morning, Reginald. Welcome to These Days.
REGINALD (Caller, Oceanside): Good morning. I had a question. I have a friend, Harry Flamburus (sp), that has a parent that is Filipino and half-Hawaiian and then the dad grew up in Hillcrest, so would he put that he was half-gay?
CAVANAUGH: I – I don’t really get your question, Reginald. But I’m wondering for mixed-race people, that must be a challenge, Dr. Sha, to be able to identify yourself correctly.
DR. SHA: Well, actually, you know, Reginald’s question, although I didn’t understand it completely, raises the good point of multi-racial backgrounds. The 2000 census was the very first one that permitted people of multi-racial backgrounds to identify with both or more of all their background. Prior to that, you had to pick one. And if you like, Maureen, I can read you some of the instructions…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, please.
DR. SHA: …that went into previous censuses.
DR. SHA: Now, remember, before 1970, the census taker came to your house, looked at you and on the basis of your physical characteristic assigned you a race. So here were the instructions to the census taker in 1930. Someone who was of mixed white and, quote, Negro blood was to be written in as, quote, Negro. Someone who was part Indian and part, quote, Negro blood was supposed to be listed as, quote, Negro. Someone who was of mixed Indian and white blood was supposed to be listed in as Indian. Someone who was mixed non-white with mixed non-white, was supposed to be listed as the race of the father. Mexican was added in 1930 for people born in Mexico or with parents born in Mexico. And then Mexican was also supposed to be written in for anybody who was not, quote, definitely white, definitely Negro, definitely Chinese, or definitely Japanese.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, my.
DR. SHA: So – Yeah, very complicated stuff. So this is what the instructions were in 1930. Ten years later in 1940, census takers were told if somebody identifies as Mexican, you’re supposed to list them as white. So, you know, you can see kind of how in just those two decades, over the years the categories of race and ethnicity have evolved. And today, again, I would just reiterate we are so fortunate because we can identify ourselves and how we see ourselves and if we’re multi-racial, we do have the opportunity to check everything that we feel we belong to.
CAVANAUGH: Including ‘other’ and explaining that.
DR. SHA: Absolutely.
DR. SHA: And I think if you’re going to check off ‘other,’ explaining that is really important…
DR. SHA: …because the Census Bureau will put in your written-in answer and if a lot of people are writing in Somali, that says something. But if you only check off ‘other’ but you don’t write it in, then people don’t understand what it is you’re trying to say.
CAVANAUGH: I think we have time for another call. Deanna is calling us from Poway. Good morning, Deanna. Welcome to These Days.
DEANNA (Caller, Poway): Hi. I sort of – I have a comment plus a question concerning the race/ethnicity.
DEANNA: First of all, how important is marking race versus ethnicity on the census? That’s the – my question.
DEANNA: And from what I’ve always understood about the difference between ethnicity and race, is that race is more of a biological characteristic and ethnicity is more of a cultural characteristic so…
CAVANAUGH: Deanna, we’re going to have to stop it there.
CAVANAUGH: Let me try to get your questions answered. Race versus ethnicity, which is more important?
DR. SHA: Well, since 1970, those questions have been asked separately and because they are separate questions, they are both important and they both need to be answered. My personal opinion is really that in this day and age the two questions could be combined just like they were prior to 1970…
DR. SHA: …and there would perhaps be a lot less confusion on many people’s parts.
CAVANAUGH: Right, and for Deanna’s point that race is biological, ethnicity not, I guess not everybody would agree with that.
DR. SHA: Well, traditionally race is defined as skin color; traditionally ethnicity is defined as country of origin. Clearly, that’s not how our government is using those definitions…
DR. SHA: …on this particular census form.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Dr. Sha, I have to thank you so much for shedding some light on what is a confusing point about the census for many people. Thank you.
DR. SHA: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Dr. Bey-Ling Sha is associate professor in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State, and she was public affairs officer with the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. for the 2000 census. You can go online if we couldn’t get to your call and post your comment, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS. Stay with us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes.