Russians Get Special Attention From Census Organizers

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The Russian community of Southern Brooklyn is getting extra attention to make sure its residents fill out their 2010 census forms.

Approximately 90 Census Questionnaire Assistance Centers have opened in the area, including at the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst. The centers are staffed with a census employee three days a week to help people fill out the forms

In addition to the centers, census workers are kicking off door-to-door efforts, focusing heavily on Brighton Beach. During the last census count, Brighton Beach, and its large Russian population were considered “hard to count” because many residents did not return their census forms.

Valeriy Savinkin, a U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialist and liaison to the Russian-speaking community, credits the low return rate to the feelings of skepticism of the government held by many Russian immigrants in the area. Eastern Europeans, especially those that lived through the Soviet era, didn’t trust or rely on the government back in Russia and have carried over those feelings for the American government, according to Savinkin.

To facilitate a higher return rate, the Census Bureau has for the first time included Russian as an official census language.

Also contributing to the rise in response rates is the Complete Count Committee for Russian American New Yorkers, which was created two years ago to educate community members on the census forms and process. During the past couple of years the organization held public events and seminars in various locations such as medical facilities, community centers and stores to inform people on why it is important to fill out the census forms. The committee was formed just a few years after the 2000 census revealed that areas in Southern Brooklyn have had the worst response rates.

But efforts may be paying off. Ten years ago the response rate was between 53 and 59 percent, while this year – after only two weeks of counting – it is already at 42 percent.

Why do you think the Russian community is so difficult to reach?