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BRAMA, Mar. 17, 2000, 10:30am EST

Let Us Make Sure We Are Counted
by Oleh Wolowyna

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  • On April 1, 2000 the US Bureau of the Census will conduct the 2000 year Census of Housing and Population. This decennial event has special importance for Ukrainians for the following reasons:

    It is important to point out the nature of census data, so that they are interpreted correctly:

    Within these qualifications, census data are extremely valuable. They are the only fairly objective data for estimating the total number of persons of Ukrainian ancestry residing in the US, their demographic, social, cultural, economic and housing characteristics. They provide the only statistically defensible means we have for measuring important trends like intermarriage and language assimilation. A national survey to gather similar information would be prohibitively costly.

    It is very important for every city and community, as well as for every social or ethnic group, to make sure that the census count is as accurate as possible. The federal government uses census numbers to allocate over $100 billion in federal funds annually for community development, health care services for the elderly, job training and more. Cities loose millions of dollars yearly due to undercounts of their population. (In the case of an ethnic group, for example, an accurate estimate of Ukrainian senior citizens in a city with a large Ukrainian population could be used in applications for special welfare funds).

    Census counts are used to determine the number of Representatives in Congress, and to define voting districts. (An accurate count of potential Ukrainian voters could be used for political lobbying). Profiles of neighborhoods based on census data are used by planners to estimate the neighborhood's needs, and by businesses to make investment decisions and target marketing campaigns. (Ukrainian organizations should take advantage of these data for better planning and for setting more realistic goals).

    The accuracy of census data has been a hotly debated issue in Congress, and the Bureau of the Census has gone to great lengths to assure as accurate a count as possible. Many cities, as well as some ethnic groups, have organized special Committees to make sure that all their members are counted. Both census questionnaires, short and long, are available in many languages (Ukrainian included), for persons who do not understand English. Many organizations of all types (businesses, unions, churches, ethnic organizations, etc.) have become Census Partners, working in collaboration with the Bureau of the Census to make sure that their members are counted accurately. Among these Census Partners are ethnic organizations like American Polish Congress, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Jewish Committee, Council of Jewish Federations, Japanese American Citizens League, National Italian-American Foundation, etc. No Ukrainian organization or church is on the list.

    Currently the Bureau of the Census is hiring census interviewers and supervisors, and is specially interested in persons of different ethnic backgrounds, who speak the language and know the community. The goal is to minimize nonresponse and to increase the quality of the data. Ukrainians should take advantage of this opportunity, and the time to act is now.

    Of special interest to our community is the so called "fourth wave" of immigrants from Ukraine. The 2,000 census provides us with a unique opportunity to obtain national, regional and local estimates of their numbers and characteristics. However, the accuracy of this information will depend on how many of them will fill out the census forms and provide accurate information.

    It is important to start as soon as possible an aggressive educational campaign to inform them that: a) there are strict confidentiality laws about census data, and there is no danger that their individual information will become public or used for any other purpose than to produce aggregated tabulations; b) the census is not interested in the immigration status of a person, its mandate is to count all persons living in the US, independently of their immigration status. For obvious reasons it will not be easy to convince them of these facts. But an educational campaign in churches and among their networks would go a long way towards producing a reasonable count of this important segment of our community. If this is not accomplished, we will have to continue to rely on speculations and impressions of dubious accuracy, at least at the national level.

    If you want to find out more about the census, contact the local offices set up specially for the 2,000 census. They are listed at the Bureau of the Census web site:, or can be obtained by calling the Public Information Office: (301) 457-3691, fax: (301) 457-3620.

    Oleh Wolowyna is owner and president of the consulting firm Informed Decisions, Inc. in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has worked as a consultant in the international development field (population and health). He has also done extensive demographic and sociological analysis of Ukrainians in the United States and Canada, as well as demographic analysis of the situation in Ukraine.


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