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Remarks at the 2009 Convention of the National Association of Black Journalists, Tampa, Florida

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Friday, August 7, 2009

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Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at the 2009 Convention of the National Association of Black Journalists
Tampa, Florida

Thank you for having me here.

It’s a privilege for me to be addressing you today—and to be sharing the stage this week with two of my colleagues. The president’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who spoke at the NABJ Hall of Fame banquet today and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson—who I know spoke with you this morning about the intersection between environmental policy, jobs and justice.

Cleaning up our environment and job creation go hand-in-hand – and the Department of Commerce plays a key role in both of those areas.

But today, I am here to talk about another major Commerce initiative that will have a profound impact on the communities NABJ members live in and report on: The 2010 Census.

At its most basic level, the purpose of the census is very simple: To count every single person living in the United States.

But the census is about a lot more than arithmetic. It’s about empowerment.

The census allows every community in America to get the representation, the federal funding and the recognition they deserve.

NABJ members understand empowerment. You've been working for almost 35 years to provide networking and career opportunities for African Americans interested in careers in journalism. You've reached into high schools and colleges to educate and provide scholarships to train the journalists of tomorrow. And you have made sure that the concerns of the black community were the concerns of the entire American community.

I hope I can enlist your help today to educate African Americans and all Americans about the vital importance of the 2010 Census. It’s a critical task in keeping with the NABJ's core principles.

Achieving a successful and accurate census has been atop my agenda as Commerce secretary since the day I took office. And I don’t mean that as a figure of speech. On the Sunday night before my first day, I flew in to Washington on a red-eye flight from my home in Seattle. That next morning, my first official event as secretary was an 8:00 AM meeting with 200 non-profit leaders who are partnering with us to make sure their members and those in their communities were fully engaged in the census.

I told the people gathered there that day that we absolutely had to have their help to ensure this project was a success. And I want to send that same message today. All Americans have a part to play in making sure every citizen and every community stands up to be counted.

The 2010 Census will be the biggest peacetime government mobilization in our nation’s history.

Over the next year, the Census Bureau will be one of the largest employers in the United States. We plan to hire almost 1.2 million people through the end of next year at a competitive hourly wage.

In an economy as difficult as this one, these jobs can serve as a vital bridge for workers until they can find something more permanent.

But above all, what every American needs to know about the 2010 Census is that it won’t just be a reflection of our country.

It will actually shape it profoundly in the years to come.

The 2010 Census data will determine how many representatives a state has in Congress—and will also serve as the foundation for drawing up legislative districts. That’s especially important because in 2011, many states will be redistricting, and according to private analysts, as many as six states are on the cusp of gaining a congressional seat.

The census will directly determine how more than $400 billion a year in federal funding is allocated to state and local governments for things like education, human services, transportation and public safety. With states across the country in the red, this funding can play a big role in shoring up budgets.

Census data about how our communities are changing is also crucial to many local planning decisions—such as neighborhood improvements, emergency preparedness, disaster recovery, senior services and much more.

The 2010 Census is occurring at a time when where we live, and who we are is changing in significant ways.

It’s only once every 10 years that America gets to take a snapshot that describes all those changes.

We simply must get this count right.

The Census Bureau is doing everything possible to make the count easier and more accurate.

Census Bureau employees have already walked almost every street in America, checking 145 million addresses for the 2010 Census address list, which is the foundation of a good count.

By early next year, Census will mail questionnaires to more than 130 million households in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, America Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For the first time, we’re using a short-form only census, with just 10 questions that takes less than 10 minutes to complete. The 10 simple questions include:

  • 1-6: what is your phone number, name; gender; age; ethnicity and race;
  • 7: how many people live at the house, apartment or mobile home;
  • 8: do you own or rent your home;
  • 9: what is your relationship to the head of household, and,
  • 10: finally, do you sometimes stay or live somewhere other than the residence you listed.

For the first time ever, the Census will be sending our bilingual Spanish-English forms to some 13 million households. Forms will also be available by request in Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Russian.

Census has how-to guides available in 59 languages and nearly 3,000 local partnership staffers who speak 101 different languages to help those who may have limited English proficiency.

Our goal is to get as many residents as we can to return their completed census forms when they’re mailed or delivered next March.

Because for each one percent increase in response rate, the Census Bureau saves about $90 million. Those are taxpayer dollars not spent on Census takers having to go door-to-door to follow up with addresses that have not yet mailed back their census form.

The good news is that the response rate improved to 67 percent in 2000 after declining for three decades, but we still have more work to do.

To get Americans paying attention to the Census well before the official Census Day, we have launched a massive public information campaign comprised of paid advertising, public relations, partnerships and a Census in Schools program. A particular focus of our outreach will be populations that are often difficult to count, including recent immigrants, non-English speakers and low-income households.

For the 2010 Census, more than $60 million will be spent on advertising to reach all audiences across the United States. And the Census Bureau plans to spend more than $20 million on additional advertising specifically targeting African Americans at the local level.

That’s where our partnership program will be especially helpful. We want to combine the strengths of state, local, and tribal governments, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, schools, media, businesses, and others to ensure an accurate 2010 Census. We want to harness the power of trusted voices.

In Census 2000, the Census Bureau had 140,000 partnerships and we want to beat that number this time. Instead of the 600 staff devoted to recruiting partners in 2000; we have, thanks to the stimulus funds, about 2,800 staff, working with Census partners.

Even with this unprecedented full-court press by Census, misperceptions and misinformation persist.

And that is why the attentive engagement of NABJ members and journalists across America is so vital.

The fact is that some people in America still fear the Census.

Whether immigrants worried about how participation will affect their citizenship status or folks who believe Census data can be used for law enforcement purposes—millions of Americans decline to be counted.

Their fears are not irrational—and they have plagued the Census since it was first conducted in 1790. In fact, George Washington was certain that the first count must have missed some residents because of religious scruples and suspicion about how the information would be used.

But I want to say emphatically that those fears are unfounded.

It is illegal for the Census Bureau to share personal information with any other government agency, including law enforcement.This law has been tested and affirmed multiple times by U.S. courts.

The Census Bureau takes extraordinary measures to protect the confidentiality of personal information from the time it’s collected until long after it’s combined with other responses to produce statistics.

All responses are protected by law. Every Census Bureau employee has taken an oath to protect your information and is subject to a jail term, a fine—or both—if he or she discloses any information that could identify you or your household.

Information collected is used for statistical purposes only: the Census Bureau cannot publish or release information that would identify you or your household.

All the Census Bureau is concerned with is counting every single person in the United States.

And those who do not participate in the Census are doing a disservice to themselves and their communities by shortchanging their representation in Congress and diminishing the federal resources for their neighborhoods.

I am confident that the Census Bureau can overcome these hurdles. President Obama and Congress have provided the Census Bureau with the resources they need.

And just a few weeks ago, the Senate confirmed the distinguished researcher and statistician Dr. Robert Groves as the Census Director. I know Dr. Groves will be an exceptional leader, and I am looking forward to working with him and his colleagues at the bureau in the months ahead.

But to make this Census all it can be, we’re going to need help from hundreds of thousands of trusted community and political leaders—people who are looked up to for their ability to inform, educate and serve in the public interest.

People very much like the ones in this room today. I hope I can count on your help.

Thank you for coming out—and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.