Leaders hope to beat 2000 census numbers

The 2010 census forms began arriving last week.

And census officials, along with city and county leaders, are counting on people who live in South Mississippi to fill them out and mail them back. Actually, they’re counting on an even higher percentage to do it than did 10 years ago.

In 2000, an average 65.7 percent of the people living in the six southern counties mailed theirs back. That was comparable to the rest of the state, but well below the national average of 72 percent. This year, block captains and count committees in cities will make returning census forms more of a community effort than a push by big government. They will urge participation through churches, schools, ethnic circles and social groups.

And hurricane-ravaged parts of the Coast will get special attention.

“With people involved in recovery, the census is way back in their minds,” said Councilman Bill Stallworth, a community block captain in Biloxi. “To them, this is just another form the government wants us to fill out.”

But a lot is riding on the population count.

In Biloxi, where the population has shifted and likely decreased, city officials are fully aware of what the census data could mean for the future.

“This census is going to be the most important in the 310-year history of the city,” said Vincent Creel, public affairs manager.

Not only will the distribution of federal funding for schools, social services and transportation hinge on the count, he said, but just as significant is how the numbers will affect representation on the City Council.

Since 2001, Biloxi’s population has been shifting west and north, Creel said.

“We could see a dramatic shift in the number of council members living north of the Biloxi Bay — a shift in power,” Creel added.

In 2000, some areas of South Mississippi did better than others at returning their forms

Ocean Springs lead with a 79 percent return, according to data on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Web site.

Later this week, people will be able to use that site to track how well their communities are participating.

The mail response saves money. For every 1 percent increase in response, taxpayers will save an estimated $85 million in cost. That’s because it’s expensive to hire, train and send census-takers to collect the information in person.

The Unites States saved $305 million in 2000 because of the high mail response. This year, it spent $350 million promoting mail-in by educating the public, said Kat A. Smith, regional census official. All census responses are confidential. Answers are protected by law.

And to top it off, the 2010 form is short, only 10 questions.

By KAREN NELSON – klnelson@sunherald.com
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