Gary Locke: Census Questionnaires Will Be in English and Spanish

The commerce secretary says they will be available in a host of other languages as well.

By + More

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says his department will handle the 2010 census differently next year in order to get as accurate a count as possible—including the use of non-English questionnaires.

"For the first time, in selected communities we will be sending out questionnaires in both English and Spanish," Locke told U.S. News. "There will be questionnaires available in other languages as well: Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, a whole host of other languages."

This approach could prompt objections from conservatives who want the government to emphasize English as the national language, but Locke said his mission as established by law is to count, to the extent possible, everyone who is living in the United States. The census is an important benchmark for the nation in many ways. For example, it sets population numbers that are used to reapportion congressional districts, and it provides extensive information on income levels and other demographic data that are used to help determine federal assistance.

Locke also said he will scrupulously adhere to the Supreme Court decision that statistical sampling cannot be used in the census. Instead, people will be counted through in-person interviews or questionnaires filled out by citizens. "We're not doing sampling," Locke said. "The Supreme Court has ruled that statistical sampling is not permitted. So there are absolutely no plans whatsoever, no contemplation whatsoever, of using statistical sampling as we conduct the decennial census."

Asked how he will ensure that everyone is counted, Locke said, "It appears that in every census for the last several decades, it's proven harder and harder because Americans are not returning surveys, whether census surveys or surveys put out by private-sector marketing firms and product information. You buy a car, and the auto dealer sends you a survey: Are you satisfied with it? I mean, people are not responding. I think in the year 2000 census, the mail-in response rate was about 67 percent—which is why we have over a million people that we're going to be hiring to go door to door to get people to fill out their information." Locke called it "the largest civilian mobilization for the federal government." In 2000, the government hired 800,000 census workers to go door to door, according to a Commerce Department spokeswoman.

Locke added: "We're trying to make it simpler. This year, it's going to be only 10 basic questions. It should only take about 10 minutes to fill out." In 2000, 1 in 6 households, randomly selected, received a long form of 53 questions, and others received a short form of eight questions.