Officials opening the U.S. Census Bureau field office in Towson on Wednesday outlined strategies for counting an estimated 310 million Americans in what they called the best-planned and most-researched accounting undertaken since the count began in 1790.
Households across the nation will receive questionnaires about March 15, with April 1 designated as Census Day. The Constitution mandates a census every 10 years and stipulates results be compiled and on the president's desk by year's end.
The results are crucial for determining representation and deciding how about $435 billion in federal funds will be allocated annually to state and local governments.
"For the next 10 years, we will live with the end result of what takes place," said Theodore J. Roman, deputy regional director of the Philadelphia census center, who stressed the ease of the new forms. "For the first time in history, there are only 10 questions that should take about 10 minutes to fill out."
About two-thirds of the population will respond readily, he said. But, officials still expect they will have to knock on many doors to avoid an undercount.
"The economy presents challenges," Roman said. "If someone is sleeping on your sofa because he has lost his home, we want him counted in your household."
The homeless, unemployed and minorities, particularly those coping with language barriers, are among those who can be lost in the process, officials said. The NAACP is launching a national campaign next month to help with those problems.
The Towson office, on the top floor of Hampton Plaza, will house about 65 employees and serve Cecil and Harford counties and about half of Baltimore County. A similar site opened last week in Catonsville to serve the western half of the county.
Staff is recruiting about 1,000 temporary workers, who will primarily deal with those who do not respond to the questionnaires. Workers will rely on the community, including churches, shelters and outreach organizations, to help identify undercounted areas.