Phoenix to Hispanics: You count 
The Arizona Republic
May. 20, 2005

Mel MelÚndez

City reaching out with bilingual ad campaign to try to persuade minorities to fill out, return census surveys


Phoenix city officials have launched a bilingual marketing campaign that they hope will entice Latinos to participate in a mid-decade census that could save millions in state and federal funding.

The U.S. Census Bureau holds a demographics survey of the nation's residents every 10 years. But cities wanting to keep up with their growth can update their population figures by conducting an additional count after five years. Maricopa County cities will conduct mail-in surveys this fall to adjust the 2000 counts.

Updating the count in cities with large minority populations is critical because ethnic minorities, especially Latinos and African-Americans, are historically undercounted. An undercount can cost municipalities millions for social service programs, such as Medicaid and foster care, which are funded based on the census numbers. (The census also reallocates congressional seats based on population changes.)

Latinos, especially undocumented immigrants, have been long undercounted because of language barriers and the fear that their personal information would be shared with immigration officials.

In Phoenix, the issue hits close to home because about 37 percent of the city's 1.4 million residents are Hispanic, many of whom are undocumented. What's more, Arizona's Proposition 200 has heightened many Latinos' concerns. Approved in November, Proposition 200 requires proof of citizenship to vote and proof of legal residency to apply for certain government benefits.

"Prop. 200's effect has been chilling," said Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, whose district encompasses Maryvale and sections of Glendale, Avondale, Tolleson and Cashion. "My district has a large immigrant population, and they're very fearful of answering questions. Getting them to participate in any census, now or in 2010, will be a real challenge."

About 27,000 of Phoenix's 600,000 households will be surveyed. The city is paying $1 million for the bilingual mail-in survey, which goes out Aug. 29. It will include a bilingual letter from Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon exhorting residents to complete and return it.

The city is also working with Telemundo, Univision and Spanish-language radio stations to get the word out, said Norris Nordvold, city intergovernmental affairs coordinator. Officials already project that Phoenix likely will lose between $20 million and $25 million in revenues beginning in July 2006 because growth has slowed.

"But if a lot of our folks don't return the survey, then we'll lose much more, because we'll have to go door to door, and that is always very costly," Nordvold said.

About 30 percent of south Phoenix residents participated in the 2000 census, compared with the city's overall 58 percent. Some areas in west Phoenix, including pockets in Maryvale, averaged only 10 percent participation.

"We're working with local churches and community groups to start this at the grass-roots level," Nordvold said. "We have so much riding on this."

Staff writer Ginger Richardson contributed to this report.

Reach the reporter at mel.melendez@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8212.