As the U.S. Census Bureau continues to heavily market the critical decennial survey, Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) has found problems with the census’s ability to properly accommodate residents who only speak Korean and Chinese.
The discrepancies, if they contribute to lowered response numbers for areas such as Flushing with large contingencies of Asian Americans, could have serious effects as federal funding and elected representation are based in large part on census numbers.
The Korean version of the census form was incorrectly translated, according to Meng. Where the English form says “state,” the Korean version was translated to say “province,” leading some of her constituents to fill in the area of Korea they are from, and where the English form says “county,” the Korean one reads “country.”
“If the census is going to spend money on all this paraphernalia and souvenirs — someone who has a census T-shirt doesn’t have more motivation to fill out the form — why don’t they instead spend that money on making sure the census forms are correct,” she said. “I feel like they’re not spending their money in the right areas.”
Flushing’s census response rate at 46% is low compared to the borough-wide 51 percent, the citywide 58 percent and the national average of 65 percent, according to the Census Bureau, and Meng worries that any additional barriers or discrepancies could discourage people from filling out the forms.
Another area where Meng’s office has found problems is the hotlines the Census Bureau set up for Korean- and Chinese-language speakers to call for help with understanding and filling out their census forms.
Three Meng interns from the University of Seoul in South Korea called the Korean hotline at three different times of day as to the service, and only one of them reached a fluent Korean speaker who was able to answer their questions and walk them through the form, according to Meng spokeswoman Linda Sun.
Sun also called the Chinese hotline herself and reached a man not fluent in the language who was unable to walk her through the form and even told her that he did not have a Chinese form on hand and was therefore unable to answer specific inquiries.
“I think whoever is responsible should go back and test these translators and these representatives because they are the ones who are dealing with this community,” Sun said. “If I was just a regular person and I had these obstacles, or I had a bit of an issue when I called, it might deter me from filling it out.”
Meng discovered these issues when constituents visited her office to take advantage of free census help the office offers constituents.
Individuals seeking free census help can visit Meng’s office on the 10th floor of Queens Crossing or their local census office.
The English census help hotline is 1-866-872-6868, the Chinese hotline is 1-866-935-2010 and the Korean hotline is 1-866-955-2010.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.
©2010 Community News Group
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