April 10, 2010 | Press of Atlantic City | Original Article

Atlantic City mayor leads parade in effort to spark Census 2010 response

ATLANTIC CITY - With hats, shirts and pennants emblazoned with "Census 2010," about 60 resort residents and city officials paraded around the Ducktown and Chelsea neighborhoods, trying to get people to turn in their forms.

Speaking into a brisk wind before the Saturday morning parade, Mayor Lorenzo T. Langford said the efforts to increase turnout are crucial.

"It is vitally important for the city of Atlantic City to do the best that we can do to be counted so as to receive our fair share of government funding," Langford said to the small crowd gathered at the Patsy Wallace Community Center at Mississippi and Fairmount avenues.

The parade was one of a number of events designed to increase the visibility of the census, the decennial counting of the nation's population and cataloging of demographics. The census is used by governments, researchers and private firms over the following 10 years to describe the change in the makeup of the American nation.

But it relies on people returning the forms the federal government mails to them. And just 47 percent of Atlantic City has responded, said Theodore J. Rogan, deputy regional director with Philadelphia's regional census center.

Atlantic City's return rate compares with neighboring Ventnor's 56 percent, Atlantic County's 60 percent, and the rest of New Jersey and the nation's 65 percent.

Rogan said low return rates are often a result of language barriers, cultural issues and instinctive distrust of government surveys by immigrants who moved to America from places where a census was not the simple and benign collection of demographic facts.

To combat that distrust, he said the U.S. Census Bureau hired community leaders in Atlantic City and elsewhere and other people fluent in immigrants' native languages to produce the forms in six languages and provide guides in 59 additional languages.

Elsewhere in the country, census officials have planned a host of other events, including parades, block parties and picnics in parks, the U.S. Census Bureau said in a release. The bureau estimated a million people would participate in events, the last public push before census workers fan out and pay individual visits to people in their homes.

The census estimated each visit costs $57, compared with $0.42 to process a returned form.

Atlantic City's "March to the Mailbox" parade started at Fairmount and Mississippi avenues in Ducktown and proceeded along Fairmount Avenue to Sovereign Avenue, where it turned onto Arctic Avenue and returned to Mississippi Avenue.

People watched in curiosity from second floor windows and from the open bays of auto repair shops on Fairmount Avenue. The city chose the route after census officials highlighted areas with low return rates, Langford's aide Muhammad Ayub said.

Police cars and fire trucks led the way, followed by officials and a contingent of parishioners from New Redeemed Church in Atlantic City.

Quanisha McGriff, a church member, said she worked for the Census Bureau and thought it was good to get involved. She turned her form in early, she laughed.

"I turned it in weeks ago when it first came out!" she said.