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Jewish World Review April 3, 2001 / 10 Nissan, 5761

Mary Deibel

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Consumer Reports

Dollars and census -- AS a new MBA student at Stanford University's business school, veteran White House speechwriter Peter Robinson confronted a map of the United States as a nation divided.

Same old political splits, he thought, but with a twist: North against South, West against East separated Hellman's country from Miracle Whip turf, defining Americans' mayonnaise tastes.

"Whether it's mayonnaise, Colgate vs. Crest or Republican vs. Democrat, people tend to bundle together, and the census helps tell where, if not always why," says Robinson, now at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

With the Census Bureau sending the states Census 2000 political redistricting data by the April 1 deadline, the focus shifts to other characteristics of the most-detailed national snapshot ever taken.

From racial and ethnic makeup to population shifts to changing income and family patterns, census data coming out now and next year about the 281,421,906 people in the United States on April 1, 2000, is a demographer's dream.

It's also a road map for economic decision-makers in the public and private sectors:

- For government officials, the data tell where $190 billion in federal grant money gets spent each year. Also, the numbers will sketch where to build highways, sewer systems, schools, hospital beds and housing - and where to back off development.

- For corporate America, census data hold a universe of information about how goods and services are likely to sell, what new products might serve consumer demand, and where to locate corporate headquarters, factories and retail outlets.

"The census is the statistical foundation of what we do, but every question is mandated by law to accomplish a government goal; it just happens its information is tremendously valuable to business decisions," says Ken Hodges, director of demography for Claritas Inc. of San Diego.

For 30 years, Claritas has mined census information, newspaper accounts, Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, consumer surveys and business databases to profile neighborhood characteristics for a client list that's included everyone from consumer heavyweights Procter & Gamble and Ford Motor to mom-and-pop stores.

Claritas currently identifies 62 neighborhood clusters by ZIP code, ranging from upper-crust "Blue Blood Estates" to the isolated rural poverty of "Hard Scrabble" country. "Kids & Cul-de-Sacs," for instance, include upscale suburban families who make $68,200 on average, buy online and vacation at Disney theme parks, while "Bohemian Mix" is urban professionals who watch "Face the Nation" and shop at the Gap.

"Demographics are one of many tools we use to locate our restaurants and reach the people we know are our customers and people we'd like to be," says Brad Whitaker, vice president of Panda Management, a fresh-cooked-to-order Asian restaurant chain that has expanded from California to 32 other states, Puerto Rico and Japan.

A Claritas customer, Panda specializes in regional shopping malls, university campuses, stadiums, grocery stores and free-standing restaurants. Outlets are sited to draw daily lunch and dinner traffic from a customer mix whose linchpin is busy two-income families in their 30s with $45,000 income and a preference for fast, healthy food.

MapInfo Corp. of Troy, N.Y., blends census information and other data so clients know "down to the Kroger store at 101 Main Street whether shoppers prefer Classic to New Coke or traditional Heinz ketchup to the new neon green ketchup kids like, and how many shelves of salsa to stock," says marketing director Jon Winslow.

With salsa surpassing ketchup as Americans' favorite condiment, ethnic marketing experts had expected the official national headcount would find that Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group. According to Census 2000:

- Hispanics numbered 35.3 million, or 13 percent of the U.S. population, last year. That's up from 22.4 million, or 9 percent, in 1990.

- The number of non-Hispanic blacks jumped 21.1 percent, to 35.4 million last year, while the U.S. Asian population now totals 11.6 million.

Census 2000 let people describe themselves as any one of 63 racial classifications. The 1 in 6 households that got the long form could further define their ancestry so that an Asian-American family could say if it is of Korean or Thai descent, while Hispanics could list themselves as Cuban, Costa Rican or Chilean.

"A rainbow coalition of consumers," says Boston University marketing historian Marilyn Halter.

The upshot: Hallmark cards come in multiple languages - 300 in Spanish alone - and celebrate holidays foreign to the United States a generation ago; Gerber Corp.'s new Tropicals line of baby food designed for Latino infants is marketed to babies of all ethnic backgrounds. And with 40 million Americans claiming they're Irish on St. Patrick's Day, the Home Shopping Network stages all-Irish shopping sprees in March.

Census 2000 may be the last for the 62-question long form, which asks about everything from family income, ancestry and education to whether the house has indoor plumbing to commuter time between home and work.

The government would still conduct a census every 10 years, as required by the Constitution, but the long form would be replaced by an ongoing American Community Survey of 3 million households, starting in 2003.

Census 2000's long form was ridiculed by talk radio, Internet chat rooms and some Republican leaders, including House census chairman Rep. Dan Miller, R-Fla.

He objects to its "intrusiveness" but says he's "not sure" the ongoing community survey is an improvement.

Claritas demographer Hodges says the nation can ill afford to kill or dilute that data. Corporations can always reach customers, census or no census, he says, but the country will pay dearly if it undermines this core source of information on the nation's well-being, as counted by city, suburb and rural neighborhood, one American at a time.

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