A newborn stars in bid to encourage census participation

The moment he was born Thursday, little Isaac Jimenez made his mark on the world, although he didn’t seem to be doing much besides snoozing in his bassinet while a phalanx of journalists recorded his every breath and foot wiggle at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights.

But by virtue of arriving April 1 -- the nation’s official Census Day -- he and others born Thursday became the last Americans eligible for inclusion in the 2010 decennial count. Those born April 2 and later will have to wait for the 2020 census to be counted.

And so census officials, community activists and Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar turned up at the hospital to visit Isaac and use the occasion to urge people to fill out their census forms or risk losing political representation and billions in federal funds.

The census will determine the allocation of more than $400 billion for more than 170 programs, congressional and legislative seats and the placement of hospitals, schools and other public facilities.

“We all win, we all benefit if we send in our forms,” Huizar said.

Census officials, community activists and even President Obama heralded Census Day with activities designed to publicize the need to participate.

The White House released a photo Thursday of Obama filling out his form earlier this week and a presidential message saying the census was safe, easy and secure.

U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves collected forms from patrons at a Washington, D.C., chili eatery, while other officials fanned out to an Arizona county fair, a Georgia park, a New York museum and other places.

Groves, in an interview, said federal taxpayers will save as much as $1.5 billion if people mail their forms back, which would eliminate the need for a census worker to follow up with a visit. The census form asks where a person resided April 1, and some people view that as a deadline. But the forms can be mailed back until April 16 or 17, officials say, and follow-up visits will probably start in early May.

“The big message is that it’s not too late to mail back your form,” Groves said. “You’ll save federal taxpayers a lot of money.”

So far, he said, the mail-back rate is running about 52% nationwide but 49% in Los Angeles County and 43% in the city of Los Angeles. The smaller L.A. percentages are not unusual, he said, because urban areas worldwide have lower census response rates than rural areas.

The lowest response rates so far are in South Los Angeles and the southeast county, while the highest are in the San Gabriel Valley and South Bay, according to census data collected to date.

Los Angeles officials are concerned about the financial impact of an undercount. Huizar said 77,000 people were not counted in 2000, costing the city $200 million in federal funds. That money, he said, could have gone toward youth programs and transportation improvements, among other things.

He was planning to participate in an evening census walk in his district to knock on doors and remind people to fill out their forms.

Young children are among the most undercounted populations, mostly because parents tend to forget to count them when filling out their forms, according to James T. Christy, the Census Bureau’s Los Angeles regional director.

But Isaac Jimenez -- dressed in a census onesie proclaiming, “I’m here. I count.” -- will not be one of the uncounted. His mother, Isabel Jimenez, said she has already filled out her census form. And now that Isaac has been born, she said she planned to fill out his form too.