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November 24, 2014

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Foreclosures bring hurdles to getting accurate census count

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke speaks with officials on Monday about how best to complete the census during the foreclosure crisis.

Every person who isn’t counted by the U.S. Census represents about a $900 loss for Nevada -- one reason why everyone needs to be counted, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said during a roundtable meeting Monday.

The discussion at the Three Square food bank headquarters, 4190 N. Pecos Road, was for local leaders to discuss the effect of the foreclosure crisis on collecting census data. Officials presented methods of counting those who might be hard to reach.

“This year I think the challenge of an accurate census is harder than ever because of the high foreclosure rate in Nevada,” Locke said. “So many people have moved out of their homes and are living with friends and others.”

Jeremy Aguero, a principal analyst with Applied Analysis, a Nevada-based advisory services company, said about 50,000 homes in Southern Nevada are in foreclosure, making the region the epicenter of the crisis.

“I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that we’re out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination,” Aguero said.

North Las Vegas City Councilman Robert L. Eliason said he wanted to make sure that all foreclosed homes had their doors knocked on, even if squatters are inside.

Eliason said that in his district, 1,047 homes are in foreclosure – and that’s only one-fourth of the city of North Las Vegas. If their doors weren’t knocked on, it’s possible the city could be severely undercounted, he said.

Cathy Lacy, regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, said foreclosed homes will have their doors knocked on and homeless shelters will be visited in an attempt to get accurate numbers.

Punam Mathur, senior vice president for NV Energy and chairwoman of the Three Square board, said she thought trust would be the key factor in getting an accurate count. She said when people are in dire situations, such as those going through a foreclosure, they tend not to trust people asking for personal information.

“I think there is a force at work … that says invisibility may be safer for us right now,” she said.

Mathur said she hoped that by reaching out through nonprofits and community groups, the census count could be more accurate. Eliason said he thought using clergy members to demystify the census would be effective within his community.

“Confidentiality is very important to people during the census,” Eliason said. “They think they’re going to be deported, they think they’re going to be evicted.”

Census workers are forbidden to share personal information, such as residency status, with anyone. It’s a felony to do so, Locke said.

“That is not our business,” he said. “Our business is to count the people in America.”

Census data is used by the federal government to allot federal funds and to decide the number of U.S. representatives each state gets. With Nevada’s population growth in the past 10 years, the state might gain an additional seat in the U.S. House, Locke said.

Census numbers are also used by some businesses and nonprofits around the country, Locke said. This includes nonprofits that want to know where their aid is most needed or department stores deciding where to put new locations, he said.

The 2010 Census form is the shortest ever. It contains 10 questions, and should take about 10 minutes to complete, Locke said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Locke asked if any of the officials at the discussion, including Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller and Three Square Executive Director Julie Murray, had suggestions for ways the federal government could further aid in conducting Nevada’s census. No one made any requests.

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