RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Richmond's mayor and other city leaders are hoping to hit a major population milestone. To do that, they have to get more people to fill out their census forms.
Speaking to students at Richmond's Franklin Military Academy, Mayor Dwight Jones framed the 2010 census in simple terms.
"After it's about counting everybody, it's all about the money," Jones told the young crowd.
City and school leaders are counting on students to bring that message home with them. It's one way officials are hoping to boost the population numbers, which bring in the money. For Richmond, the magic number is 200,000.
"It just pushes us into a different category where we're able to draw down more dollars," said Jones of the milestone. Richmond's population hasn't topped the 200,000 mark since the 1990 census.
In the 2000 census, the city fell about 4,000 short of that mark, but the last 10 years have seen a growth spurt.
"We should be up around somewhere between 202,000 and 205,000," said Jeffrey Bourne, who serves as the city's census liaison as well as the Mayor's deputy chief of staff.
Bourne is in charge of outreach efforts to maximize census participation. City leaders hope to improve on the dismal 60% return rate on the last census.
"10 years ago, let's be honest: We didn't do very well," said Richmond schools superintendent Dr. Yvonne Brandon, addressing the Franklin students.
Part of the reason for that poor performance is that an estimated 85% of Richmond's population is considered "hard to count" by the Census Bureau.
"It just means that these are areas where just sending a letter and expecting a return is questionable," said Jones.
Those hard-to-reach groups include African American men between 18 and 35, immigrants, students, and the homeless. Areas like the city's housing projects are home to high concentrations of the hard to count. These are areas that will be specifically targeted by census efforts.
"Instead of just sending out the forms, instead of just putting it on the radio and in the newspaper, they're going to try to do it through networking," said Jones.
The efforts will include a focus on churches, where city and census officials believe faith leaders can reach congregants on a personal, trusted level.