Students are census target for headcount

Will Conley

University students might prove hard to track down for the upcoming 2000 census, said Will Craig, chairman of Minneapolis’ Complete Count Committee, at a press conference on Wednesday.
Craig, who joined Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton at the conference, said the committee will target students with new techniques designed to track transient populations. Part of his plans for reaching students involves sending them mass e-mails. The committee would also request that professors encourage students to participate in the census, the nation’s largest peacetime project.
Sayles Belton said the 1990 census was estimated to be off by 1.7 percent, costing Minneapolis $8 million in federal grants over a 10-year period. Faulty headcounting deprives many citizens of services like homeless shelters and job placement, Sayles Belton said.
Steven Ruggles, a University history professor and organizer of the census project, favors the proposed student-targeting techniques, verifying that they are a difficult group to count. Although the rules are that people must be enumerated where they live, many students are enumerated at their parents’ homes, greatly distorting figures. He feels that the education and outreach plan, which will cost the city of Minneapolis $150,000, could benefit the community.
He also remarked that although Minneapolis’ 1.7 percent error is very small for an urban community, large cities have long had a problem with accurate head counts. He also identified a discrepancy of enumeration between races.
“Throughout the whole 20th century there has been an increasing problem for undercounting in urban areas, especially between blacks and whites,” he said, attributing the discrepancy to racial tension.
“Middle-class whites who live in the suburbs are just a whole lot more interested in cooperating with authority,” Ruggles said.
During the press conference, which was held at Lutheran Social Service in Minneapolis, the mayor and other officials discussed specific activities to encourage citizen participation in the 2000 census.
Some specific methods of reaching people will be contacting group leaders such as pastors and setting up an educational Web site. Sayles Belton’s hope is that neighbors encourage and reassure each other that the census is important and confidential.
“This is about resources for our community,” said Minneapolis Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Emmett Carson. “This is about money. Here is an opportunity to direct money, before the fact, into our community.”