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Remarks at the Asian American Journalists Association 20th Annual National Convention, Boston, Massachusetts


Wednesday, August 12, 2009



Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at the Asian American Journalists Association 20th Annual National Convention
Boston, Massachusetts

Thank you for having me here. Being the husband of Mona Lee, a former television journalist, I have to tell you, I feel right at home.

It’s good to meet today on the heels of some wonderful news for journalists everywhere and Asian-American journalists in particular—the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling from their detention in North Korea.

Last week’s event was a reminder of the extraordinary risks journalists take to keep the public informed and to speak truth to power. Good journalism is absolutely essential to democracy and I want to commend the AAJA for all the work it’s done to support the cause—and for all it’s done to empower existing and aspiring Asian American journalists over the years.

Today, I want to talk about a vitally important Commerce initiative that also empowers.

The 2010 Census.

At its most basic level, the purpose of the Census is very simple.

To count every single person living in the United States.

But the Census is about a lot more than enumeration.

The Census allows every community in America to get the political representation, the federal funding and the recognition they deserve.

All Americans have a part to play in making sure every citizen and every community stands up to be counted—especially the AAJA members who do so much to inform and educate their communities.

The 2010 Census will be the biggest peacetime government mobilization in our nation’s history.

Through the end of next year, the Census Bureau plans to hire almost 1.2 million people at a competitive hourly wage.

These jobs can serve as a vital bridge for unemployed workers until they find something more permanent.

But above all, what every American needs to know about the 2010 Census is that it won’t just be a reflection of our country.

It will actually shape it profoundly in the years to come.

The 2010 Census data will determine congressional representation and will also serve as the foundation for drawing up legislative districts. That’s especially important because in 2011, most states will be redistricting. According to political analysts, as many as six states are on the cusp of gaining a congressional seat. Of course, that also means some states could lose seats as a result of the Census.

The Census will directly determine how more than $400 billion a year in federal funding is allocated to state and local governments for things like education, human services, transportation and public safety. With states across the country in the red, this funding can play a big role in shoring up budgets and maintaining vital services to children, seniors and the poor.

The 2010 Census is occurring at a time when where we live, and who we are is changing in significant ways.

That’s been especially true of the Asian-American community. Making up just 3 percent of the U.S. population in 1990, Asian Americans are now one of the fastest-growing segments in the country whose share could grow to almost 5 percent in the 2010 Census.

It’s only once every 10 years that America gets to take a snapshot that describes all these changes.

We simply must get this count right.

The Census Bureau is doing everything possible to make the count easier and more accurate.

By early next year, Census will mail questionnaires to more than 130 million households in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the American territories.

For the first time, we’re using a short-form-only Census, with just 10 questions that take less than 10 minutes to complete. The 10 simple questions include:

  • 1-6: what is your phone number, name; gender; age; ethnicity and race;
  • 7: how many people live at the house, apartment or mobile home;
  • 8: do you own or rent your home;
  • 9: what is your relationship to the head of household, and, finally,
  • 10: do you sometimes stay or live somewhere other than the residence you listed.

I hope you’ll notice what’s not in there. There is not a single question about voter status, immigration or citizenship.

For the first time ever, Census will be sending out bilingual Spanish-English forms to some 13 million households. Forms will also be available by request in Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Russian.

Census also has how-to guides available in 59 languages and nearly 3,000 local partnership staffers who speak 101 different languages to help those who may have limited English proficiency.

Our goal is to get as many residents as we can to return their completed form on time. For each one percent increase in mail response rate, the Census Bureau saves about $90 million of taxpayers’ money by not having to go door-to-door, following up with addresses that have not yet mailed back their Census form.

To get Americans paying attention to the Census well before the official Census Day, we have launched a massive public information campaign comprised of paid advertising, public relations, partnerships and a Census in Schools program.

For the 2010 Census, more than $100 million will be spent on advertising to reach all audiences across the United States.

That’s where our partnership program will be especially helpful. We want to combine the strengths of state, local, and tribal governments, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, schools, media, businesses, and others to ensure an accurate 2010 Census.

Even with this unprecedented full-court press by Census, misperceptions and misinformation persist.

The fact is that some people in America still fear the Census.

Whether immigrants worried about how participation will affect their citizenship status or folks who believe Census data can be used for law enforcement purposes—millions of Americans decline to be counted.

Their fears are not irrational. In fact, George Washington was certain that the first count in 1790 must have missed some residents because of religious scruples and suspicion about how the information would be used.

But I want to say emphatically that those fears are unfounded.

It is illegal for the Census Bureau to share personal information with any other government agency, including law enforcement.

And Census employees who disclose any information that could identify you or your household are subject to a jail term, a fine—or both.

All the Census Bureau is concerned with is counting every single person in the United States.

To make this Census all it can be, we’re going to need help from hundreds of thousands of trusted community and political leaders. People who are looked up to for their ability to inform, educate and serve in the public interest.

People very much like the ones in this room today. I know I can count on your help.

Thank you for coming out—and I sincerely hope you have a wonderful 20th annual convention.