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Isle census offices finish job

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As the state’s happiest group of newly unemployed celebrate the completion of 2010 census work in Hawaii, statisticians, policymakers and others are hoping that an improved participation rate will pay off in a better accounting of Hawaii’s population and the economic benefits that go with it.

Workers from the Waianae Census Office completed a massive door-to-door campaign last week in which census takers visited — and often revisited — an estimated 120,000 residences on the west and north shores of Oahu as well as neighbor islands that did not return a census via mail.

The office finished its last bit of business, double-checking vacant homes, this week. The Honolulu Census Office completed its business earlier this month.

The end comes more than a month ahead of schedule. And while that means the staffs of both offices, as well as some 3,000 front-line census takers, will no longer be employed by the U.S. Census Bureau, the feeling in Waianae was of relief and elation for a job well done.

"We had potluck in the office," said manager Kathleen Popa. "It was a big celebration. I’m surprised they didn’t hear us all the way in Honolulu."

While Hawaii still ranked near the bottom in mail response rate this year, it looks to improve significantly on the 64 percent overall response rate it recorded in the last decennial count.

According the Census Bureau, 64 percent of Hawaii households returned a census form via mail by the April 16 deadline this year. Popa said her enumerators were able to make contact with 58 percent of the remaining households in her district during door-to-door follow-ups.

Honolulu Census Office manager Winnie Wilson has previously said that the overall state participation could exceed 80 percent this year. Even accounting for changes in how participation is now measured, Hawaii is already ahead of where it was in 2000.

That improvement will likely mean a significant increase in federal funds designated for the state. The Census Bureau estimates that each person who is not counted represents a loss of $1,200 to $2,500 in federal funds each year.

Census officials estimated that Hawaii lost out on $310 million over the last 10 years due to undercounting in the 2000 census.

Accurate population enumeration is also critical to state agencies, social service organizations and others that use census data for planning and budgeting purposes.

The state recently released its final population estimates based on the 2000 census, with some surprising results.

The estimate indicated a rise in the state’s white population and declines in its Asian and native Hawaiian populations.

However, Eugene Tian, acting economic research administrator for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said the estimate might be misleading because of incomplete population recording 10 years ago.

Tian said tax return data, birth and death statistics, and other measures of comparison suggest that the estimate is inaccurate.

"This is an estimate based on the 2000 census, and Hawaii had a low response rate that year," he said. "We want to see if the 2010 Census supports this. The low response rate last time may have skewed the results. The native Hawaiian response rate was low, and this may have had an impact."


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