Baltimore launched its "Everyone Counts" campaign for the 2000 census yesterday in the War Memorial Building across from City Hall, with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke urging schoolchildren to spread the word about the count so the city can get the resources it needs.
"How many of you would like to have more recreation centers?" Schmoke asked the children. He asked adults, "How many of you would like to have more police on the streets?"
The event, which drew 250, featured refreshments and a jazz ensemble.
On April 1, the government will begin taking a snapshot of the country's population in a count taken every 10 years since 1790, when Thomas Jefferson directed the effort.
The reality is that Baltimore will not likely get more recreation centers or other facilities based on the next census and could lose millions of dollars and political power in the General Assembly because of the city's population loss.
In the 1990 census, the city's population was 736,014. Now, the number has likely fallen by more than 100,000, said Gloria Griffin, the planning staff member who organized the event yesterday.
For every 1,000 people missed in a federal count, about $2.8 million in public funds is lost, said Charles C. Graves III, the city's planning director. Nine years ago, an estimated 22,000 city residents were missed in the count, he said.
Traditionally undercounted groups are minorities, families on welfare, Hispanics and foreigners who are in the United States illegally. The most undercounted subgroup in the nation is young African-American men, census experts say.
Because Baltimore's population contains large numbers of groups often left out of the census, Graves and Griffin have launched an effort to reach them, as well as the homeless population, those living in public housing and youths.
One youth at the event yesterday expressed what Graves and Griffin are up against.
"It [doesn't] matter to me," said Michael Robinson, 17.
More than 100 people have agreed to serve on the "Complete Count" committee to raise census awareness and overcome that kind of complacency.
Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, Baltimore Fire Department spokesman, is one of them. The chairman of the Hispanic subcommittee said yesterday that the number of Latinos in Baltimore might be six to seven times higher than the 1990 count of 7,000.
"Our intent is to educate the Hispanic community. If you make people invisible, you can ignore them. We need to be visible," Torres said. "Regardless of whether people are citizens or illegal, they need services."
To count city residents, census workers will knock on doors and try to find people who fail to respond to a mailing in March.