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Census long form may be eliminated Questions have been called invasive by some
By Rick Klein / The Dallas Morning News
After weeks as a hot-button issue on talk shows and among politicians, Republican congressional leaders said Thursday that they hope to eliminate the census long form before the next national population count.
"Clearly, the biggest controversy surrounding the census has been the perceived intrusiveness and invasion of privacy of the long form," said Rep. Dan Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House subcommittee on the census. "We really . . . hope to be rid of the long form by 2010."
Related information View the long form
Census officials have said they would like to replace the long form with a rolling survey of far smaller proportions that would begin early this decade. Congress would have to authorize the change, and Mr. Miller said Thursday that he supports the proposal.
The long form was sent to one in six American households on average and asks more than 50 questions about people, income, employment and housing. The rest of the nation was sent the short form, which asks only seven questions.
As of Wednesday , only 48 percent of long forms had been sent to processing centers, compared with 60 percent of short forms, according to the Census Bureau. Census questionnaires will be processed through the middle of the month.
Associated Press Countering criticism about the long form, Census Director Kenneth Prewitt said recently that such comments could harm operations.
Census officials have said they were disappointed in the return rate of 2000 census forms. According to data released Thursday , the national rate was 58 percent. The Texas rate was 54 percent, and the Dallas rate was 49 percent.
Census data determine congressional representation and voting districts and are used to distribute billions of dollars in federal and state funds every year. Not participating in the census contributes to an undercount of the population, which causes a misdirection of resources, officials say.
Mr. Miller - joined at a Washington news conference by House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla. - emphasized the importance of responding to the 2000 census. Mr. Hastert echoed the recent comments of several other Republican leaders - including Gov. George W. Bush - in telling people to answer only questions they are comfortable with.
"If they have reservations about their phone number or some things that they think are private, I think that's a condition that they ought to be able to make their own decision on," Mr. Hastert said.
Census Director Kenneth Prewitt recently said that negative comments about the census could harm operations. A low census response rate costs the government millions of dollars, and the Census Bureau will send an estimated 500,000 workers door-to-door to nonresponding households starting at the end of this month.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. and the ranking member of the House census subcommittee, said Mr. Hastert's comments jeopardize the census's data-gathering ability.
"His announced support for revamping the way the census is conducted, even as Americans are responding to it, undermines the largest peace-time mobilization in history and is completely irresponsible," she said.
"Republican leaders should be urging all Americans to fill out the forms completely. They should be urging their members to support the census, all of the census."
The Census Bureau says all questions on the long form are asked for specific legislative reasons and that only one question was added to long forms this year. Census workers are prohibited by federal law from sharing personal information with anyone, including other federal agencies.
Census questions have been criticized in the past, but never before have the concerns been so loud and sustained, said Margo Anderson, a census historian at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"People haven't objected to the long form" in the past, Dr. Anderson said. "There has been no organized resistance to getting rid of it."
Mr. Miller said the Internet has fueled fresh discussions of privacy and that people are more skeptical than ever of government.
Under the Census Bureau's proposed American Community Survey, a sample of households would be asked long-form-style questions on a regular basis. If Congress approves that plan, the decennial census would ask only basic population and housing questions.
Members of Congress will consider the American Community Survey and other options during hearings this summer to determine the best course for the next census, said Chip Walker, a census subcommittee spokesman.
"We do want to work to eliminate the long form in 2010," Mr. Walker said. "The most logical replacement would be the ACS, but we wouldn't want to replace the long form with something that will raise the same concerns."
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 07, 2000