By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck, said Mayor Karen Majewski, is a “poster child of diversity.”
And that’s what the challenge is when it comes to getting an accurate population count during next year’s official Census.
The once-every-10-year national population head count takes off in March with a mass mailing of a short survey.
In the months leading up to the mailing, Hamtramck officials will be working with various community leaders and volunteers to make sure all of the city’s ethnic groups take part in the Census.
On Monday, a handful of city officials, Census officials and members of Piast Institute held a press conference to kick off the Hamtramck Complete Count Committee.
So why is being a diverse ethnic community so challenging?
Traditionally, ethic groups and new immigrants in this country are fearful – or at least distrustful – of filling out the Census questions because they think the information will be used by other government agencies.
And just what is that fear and distrust based on?
For many immigrants, their homeland government was, let’s say, not friendly and likely to use private information against their own people.
In a post 9/11 America, that fear of government has intensified here.
But Census officials keep pounding the message that by law, no other government agency can look at the information and that the Census Bureau has no interest in the legal status of anyone.
All the Bureau mainly wants to do is find out how many people are living here. It also will ask you about your sex, age, income level, the number of people living in your dwelling and just a few other questions.
Some residents will receive a much longer form at a later date asking more probing questions. That information is also protected by law.
So, what’s at stake for Hamtramck in receiving an accurate population count?
Loads – as in money for street repairs, public safety, education, housing and a variety of other resources the community will be able to tap into.
The higher our population number, the more the city is in line to receive.
On the flip side, if the population count slips below the 2000 Census figure, money will tighten up for Hamtramck.
The city is no stranger to the challenges of the Census. In the 2000 Census, city officials established a committee and department head to reach out into the community. Volunteers were recruited to make sure the many ethnic communities were aware of the Census and – most importantly – not fear the Census.
“It’s going to take a lot of people to do this,” said Virginia Skrzyniarz, Executive Vice President of the Piast Institute.
Skrzyniarz is also the Chairman of the Hamtramck Complete Count Committee. The Piast Institute already has a leg up on the Census since it’s the only Michigan Census Information Center.