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Clayton gearing up for census push

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

With today, April 1, marking "National Census Day," the return rate of the 2010 census for Clayton County residents stands at 38 percent, according to local census officials. In order to surpass the county's 2000 census return rate, the Clayton County 2010 Census Complete Count Committee is strengthening its efforts to reach communities less likely to respond.

According to Complete Count Committee Chairman Kim Siebert, the county's rate of return for the 2000 census was 67 percent, at a time when the county's population was 236,517, by April 1, 2000 census numbers. The county's 2010 census return rate currently lags behind the present national average, which recently broke 50 percent, she said.

"We've set a goal to exceed the 2000 effort by 15 percent," Siebert said. "I think it's too early to tell [how close the county is to that goal]. I've read that the nation right now is at 50 percent. That puts us below the nation, but that's not necessarily where we will finish. We need to reach out to those groups who may be reluctant to return the census for any reason."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county's estimated population as of July 1, 2009 was 275,772 -- a 16.6 percent increase from April 1, 2000. Between April 1, 2000 and July 1, 2009, Riverdale experienced an estimated 21.4 percent population surge (from 12,582 to 15,279), while Jonesboro experienced an 8.1 percent increase (from 3,823 to 4,131).

The cities of Forest Park, Morrow, Lake City and Lovejoy experienced only nominal increases or decreases in population between 2000 and 2009, according to Census estimates.

Siebert said that in recent weeks, the Complete Count Committee has focused on reaching "hard to reach populations" with census materials, particularly non-English-speaking and low-income households. She said the committee has enlisted the help of Korean, Hispanic, and Caribbean cultural associations to distribute census information at apartment complexes, shopping centers, and neighborhoods with predominately immigrant populations.

"Our committee members have a breakdown of the apartment complexes in the county and have been going there, encouraging people to turn in their forms," Siebert said. "There has been some effort to distribute literature at Walmart during peak shopping hours. We have a long way to go. People need to get involved."

One of the ways the committee plans to involve citizens in the census is the "Everyone Counts" festival, which will take place at the Clayton County Headquarters Library in Jonesboro on April 10 from 11 a.m., to 3 p.m.

Hosted by a number of county agencies, businesses, and organizations, the festival will include arts and crafts; bilingual Spanish/English story telling; banking and credit workshops for teens; music by the PanSONICS Steel Band; Caribbean food and pastries provided by the Caribbean Association of Georgia; and information about completing the census.

Janice Hughes, the U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialist for Clayton County, said that from now until April 19, questionnaire assistants will be available at all of the county's libraries, as well as at some local churches, to assist people in filling out the census form. From mid-May to mid-July, Census workers will visit the homes of people who have yet to fill out their forms, she said.

According to Siebert, many local residents have yet to receive a 2010 census form in the mail. She said that after April 12, those who have yet to receive a census form can call (866) 872-6868 to request one.

For more information about the "Everyone Counts" festival, call (770) 473-3850 or visit www.claytonpl.org.