A Census for All Tongues

Category: Culture, Language

the 2010 United States census form on a white backgroundFor the first time in history, the U.S. government has made a concerted effort — nay, a multimillion dollar effort — to reach out to immigrant groups to ensure they fill out the 2010 census forms mailed out last month.

Bilingual (Spanish-English) questionnaires are being sent directly to homes for the first time, particularly in Latino-dense neighborhoods of Los Angeles County, south Florida, Texas, and Utah. Number of questionnaires: 13 million. Cost: $26 million.

In what’s being called the most diverse outreach campaign in U.S. history, hundreds of advertisements have been drafted in 28 languages. Shown on television, and print, outdoor, and online advertising, they urge viewers to make themselves “count.” In a special effort to include illegal aliens, the ads assure confidentiality in all responses, reports The New York Times. The 2000 census budget? $100-150 million. This year’s? A whopping $340 mil.

The Census Bureau also took to the streets looking for bilingual people from “hard to count” communities, that is, population groups that have low participation rates due to language or cultural barriers, or educational gaps. Turns out, those people are hard to locate! As of March 11, the government was still seeking 25,000 applicants in Texas to help with outreach efforts, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to some Native American dialects, the Census Bureau is short on speakers of Russian, Korean, and Urdu. Some part of the States that have been recently settled by refugees are also facing problems finding bilingual workers. In Idaho, for example, they can’t find enough Kirundi speakers to communicate with those who have just settled in from parts of Africa.