TODAY   |  March 27, 2010

Stumped by the Census? You’re not alone

Ed O’Keefe of the Washington Post joins TODAY’s Lester Holt to address some of the confusion surrounding the questionnaire.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> bite -- frrrrrrosted mini-wheeeeats!

>>> chances are you've already opened your mailbox and found a census form waiting. the constitution requires a count of all u.s. residents every ten years. but this year there are a couple of questions that have some people stumped. ed o'keefe writes the federal blog. he put the ten questions in ten minutes promise to the test.

>> i have my trusty egg timer here. are you of spanish, latino or spanish origin. question number two, that would be the missus, does this person stay somewhere else ? only when upset with her husband. that's not an option. i filled out the form, it took exactly five minutes.

>> could have cooked an egg in that time. good to see you, thanks to your wife for being the camera person on that. it was pretty simple to get it done.

>> it was pretty easy. they're only sending a form with ten questions in the past. some have had many more questions, but this time in response to criticisms that it's taking too long and too confusing, they said, hey, ten questions in ten minutes. the basic idea of the census, every ten years they have to do this count, what happens to those numbers.

>> basically it goes back to the census bureau and they figure out how many people live in the united states , doesn't matter what your citizenship status is, and then they ask questions regarding your age and gender.

>> these are numbers that are used in real applications in the way we live?

>> for federal funding , to track things like the civil rights and the voting rights act . lots of different reasons.

>> there's been a lot of conversations about race, and it's not surprising in a country that likes to talk about race a lot. you can select more than one ethnicity.

>> this is basically a multiple choice test with no right or wrong answer. i said i was of hispanic origin but i'm white.

>> hispanic, latin or spanish origin. what if you're not from what we consider a latin country?

>> if not just leaf that blank.

>> it's not the only choice to represent a black person . why do they put that in there? it's acceptable at one point and no locker.

>> it says black, african-american or negro, the reason that it's designed that way, because in the past so many people were writing in the word negro and still many older african- americans do. it's likely it won't be on there in ten years because of the firestorm it's created. but there's a lot of other people who donwant to write in other racial or ethnic groups .

>> i have a son who's leaving for college, he said don't fill me out in your census, is that right or wrong, do i put him or not.

>> in april the census bureau is going to be visiting college dorms, nursing homes and prisons.

>> the opportunity for scams and ripoffs seem to ripe here for those looking to take advantage of this particular point. what should people be on the lookout for.

>> bottom line , the only thing you fill out is that ten-question form that's delivered in the mail. if you get an e-mail, delete it. if you get a phone call , hang up.

>> but the people with the census bureau --

>> they'll have an id and they'll only ask you the questions that are on the census form.

>>> one word, babies. th surprise