Tough economy could impact accuracy of 2010 Census

There is no more long form. The 2010 Census motto: "Ten questions, 10 minutes."

Federal head-counters hope that streamlined questionnaires mean more people than ever will mail back completed forms when the constitutionally mandated, once-a-decade census begins in earnest a year from Wednesday.

That could save big money, because sending enumerators out to knock on doors costs hundreds of millions of dollars. And it could help ensure greater accuracy for a decennial count that is believed to miss millions of people, mostly ethnic and racial minorities.

But there is nothing simple about trying to count every single one of the 306 million or so people residing in the United States, especially in the case of "hard to count" populations – immigrants, Hispanics, and blacks, among others.

The unwinding economic crisis threatens to make a difficult job even harder. Millions of people – foreclosed on, out of work – are expected to be displaced from homes and communities, on the move and hard to pin down when census time comes, federal officials and advocates say.

"That is a huge challenge for what is a household-based operation," said Terri Ann Lowenthal, an analyst who works with The Census Project, an organization that promotes policies to ensure an accurate count. "I'm worried that in hard-hit communities, where people are losing jobs and neighborhoods are being abandoned, people may not have the ties, the interest or the time to participate."

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