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Some College Park, Md., residents still waiting for census to count them

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010

Any day, Roberta Jernigan kept telling herself this spring, the census form will come in the mail.

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When it didn't, she expected a census worker to come to the 300-unit apartment building where she lives in College Park to count the residents in person.

And now, with the decennial head count almost over, Jernigan's apartment still hasn't been contacted by the census.

Although the Census Bureau says it should reach everyone in the Westchester Park complex during a mop-up phase, Jernigan is miffed at being overlooked.

"I kept saying, 'What is going on?' " Jernigan said, adding that she called a toll-free number weeks ago and was told a census questionnaire would be mailed to her. It wasn't. "We want to be counted. It's our civic duty."

It is unclear why the Westchester Park apartments and a small condominium complex nearby were initially missed. Although the bulk of this year's work is over, it will continue until early September in an effort to minimize undercounts and overcounts. People whose addresses don't match a master list will be called. Vacant homes will be checked. And omissions such as the Westchester Park residences, when discovered, will be counted.

"We're going to check, double-check and triple-check," Census Director Robert M. Groves said Wednesday in an update on operations. "The whole purpose is to make sure we've gotten it right."

Since May 1, census takers have knocked on the doors of more than 47 million homes, virtually all the addresses for which nobody returned a form. They found 14.3 million vacant residences, up from 9.9 million in the 2000 Census -- a reflection of the heavy toll the recession and foreclosures have taken on the nation.

As the census winds down, more than three-quarters of the 635,000 temporary workers hired for it have been dismissed. The remaining 125,000 will be checking the work that has been done.

One of the remaining tasks is to re-interview about 5 percent of the households that each census taker visited, to confirm the accuracy of the completed forms. That work started two weeks ago, and Groves said the Census Bureau suspects that answers might have been made up on hundreds of forms.

"A number are so severely mismatched, they could be fabrications," he said of the difference between the answers the original census takers submitted and the answers provided in follow-up interviews.

Steve Jost, a spokesman for the Census Bureau, said repeat interviews are being conducted on all the "hard fail" census forms turned in by 524 enumerators. Groves said suspicious cases will be turned over to the inspector general in the Commerce Department for investigation and possible prosecution.

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