Palestine residents at the local Walmart. Next year, census-takers and volunteers will attempt to get an accurate population count, and accurate statistical data for the city and county.

City Manager Leslie Cloer said Wednesday Palestine has been consistently undercounted by the U.S. Census Bureau, partly because of dismal participation rates by residents. In a recent census survey, for example, only one in four Palestine residents participated.

“That's awful,” Cloer said. “We are going to count every body we can next year.”

Cloer is forming a “Complete Count Committee,” consisting of community leaders, clergy, activists, and residents representing Palestine's diverse racial, religious, and socio-economic groups.

What's at stake? For starters, an undercount can shortchange the city's share of federal dollars on a range of important services, including school lunch programs, street and road funding, public safety, and Head Start programs.

Next year, the federal government has $675 billion to grant states and local communities; U.S. Census data have a lot to do with how big a piece of the pie cities like Palestine get.

Census-derived population data also determines a state's congressional representation.

A key issue, Cloer said, will be persuading Palestine's Latino community to participate.

Traditionally, fears of deportation, communication problems, and mistrust have made Latinos less likely to participate in U.S. Census counts.

U.S. Census Partnership Specialist Randy Portillo said these fears are unfounded.

“All Census Bureau employees, have taken an oath: We can't share anyone's personal information – not even with law enforcement agencies,” he said. “If we do, we can be fined, or even imprisoned.”

To help spread the word to the Latino community, Portillo said, the Census Bureau will provide a Spanish-speaking liaison. Cloer said she also will ask for volunteers from UNIDOS, Palestine's Hispanic outreach group.

Annual surveys are done to make unofficial year-to-year adjustments in a community's population data. In the 2017 annual census questionnaire, Cloer said, only 27 percent of those who received a form responded.

At the end of each decade, the federal government undergoes a comprehensive effort to ensure official counts at the start of a new decade are accurate, as well as reliable means of deciding how much federal assistance a community should receive.

Neither Portillo nor Cloer knew how much money Palestine receives from the federal government.

Beginning next March, residents can participate in the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail. Census officials said enumerators visit in person only when residents at a known address fail to use any of the other three methods.

“You might get a call if there's a question on your form,” Portillo said. “No one will come knocking on your door, though, if you send us a completed form.”

Local jobs are another benefit of the 10-year census.

Employment with the US Census Bureau lasts one year. U.S. citizens older than 18 with a valid Social Security card may apply at 2020census.gov/jobs.

Salary, paid weekly, is determined by experience and position, but an enumerator – door-to-door census checker can earn $13 an hour, plus 58 cents a mile for driving expenses.

“I recommend people start applying now,” Portillo said.

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