LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — When Township Committeeman Eugene Kobryn did not receive a census form in the mail, just as many of the other residents in the township’s Cross Creek community, he figured he would eventually get a knock on the door.
“Nobody ever came,” said Kobryn, 72. “They missed the entire section we live in.”
A data collection glitch has caused millions of U.S. homes to go uncounted in the recent census form, including hundreds in Little Egg Harbor Township alone, census and township officials say.
Census takers missed more than 200 homes in the Cross Creek community, a housing subdivision off Center Street, a major roadway, a regional census official said.
The U.S. Census Bureau has acknowledged the errors and said it is working to correct the problem.
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But township officials fear their municipality will be shortchanged as a result — losing government aid and possibly lessening the state’s influence in Washington. Census data collected during the 2006-08 American Community Survey show 20,527 people living in the township, a nearly 29 percent increase over the 15,945 counted in 1990.
Township officials want to make sure the full growth is measured.
“Accuracy is paramount to the census program. … The government strictly distributes funding based on population, and the representation in Congress is based on population. It’s all tied together,” Kobryn said. “What if you went to the bank and they told you an error caused a shortfall in your account of 5 (percent), 10 (percent) or 20 percent? Would you be OK with that? But if our count is wrong, it impacts all of the other towns by us.”
Kobryn said he was told that his neighborhood was not on the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent maps.
“We’ve been here for seven years,” he said. “If we weren’t on their maps, who else did they miss?”
Philip Lutz, an assistant regional census manager for the Philadelphia region, which covers Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia and 11 southern counties of New Jersey, said as many as 3 million addresses in the country were not on census maps.
Lutz said the bureau sent workers out in 2009 to make sure the maps it had — which are largely created by gathering information from the postal service, municipalities, county planning offices and the general public — were accurate prior to the surveys going out.
“In this area, that was not done as well as it should’ve been done,” Lutz said.
Lutz blamed the undercounting in part to the bureau having to hire “temporary people” every decade to perform these jobs. “Sometimes it’s not a perfect process, which is why we built-in other operations to fill in the gaps.”
One of these operations, Lutz said, is the bureau’s New Construction Program that enables municipalities to report any new developments completed between the time the census workers last updated the address lists and April 1, 2010.
Census workers will also remain on the streets for the next few weeks to count and verify addresses, Lutz said.
“We pretty much have to be wrapped up in the next few weeks. After that, there will be some people out there doing quality evaluations on what we’ve done,” said Lutz, adding that some census workers will remain on the street to complete the bureau’s monthly unemployment survey and consumer price index.
“We are doing everything we can to complete the 2010 census — house by house,” Lutz said. “One way or another, every house is going to be counted and enumerated in the 2010 census.”
Betty Ann Resch, who worked as an enumerator for the Census Bureau throughout southern Ocean County this year, called the data collection process “very disorganized.”
“If you look in the book that the census used for Little Egg Harbor, that particular section of Cross Creek was still listed as vacant land. That’s 200 homes that they totally missed … homes that have been there for more than five years,” said Resch, 62, a member of the township’s Planning Board and resident of the Sunrise Bay Adult Community. “And the newer section of Sunrise Bay, which is now about 5 years old, was also missed. That’s about another 25 homes right there. And those are only two that I know about. There’s no telling who else was missed.”
After Kobryn brought the mistake to Resch’s attention, Resch informed her supervisor of the oversight.
“We had to go back to the community and survey everyone again, because they couldn’t give us a list of who had been counted already,” she said. “It took us about two days to do a job that should’ve only taken a couple of hours. It’s almost embarrassing to have to knock the doors of people who were already counted, because we kind of had to admit there had been a mistake.”
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