Why the Census Matters

Why the Census Matters

A page from the 1880 Census

We have been completing a countrywide census every ten years since 1790 as required by the U.S. Constitution. Back then it was very basic with only a few demographic questions processed and counted at the local level of government. The handwritten forms are fascinating to read, scribbled in cursive with extra notes you wont find in today’s counts. It is always a challenge to decipher, guessing at different handwritten words. Future generations will really struggle since already many youth cannot read cursive writing.

As the years went by, statistics evolved and the census along with it. In 1940 statistical sampling in the population census began. This allowed the Census Bureau to ask additional detailed questions to a random sample of the population (about 5%) instead of the whole population which provided more information without raising the cost for the census. Random sampling continued in the decennial census’ up until 2010. At that time the American Community Survey was launched which is an ongoing survey providing information about the population annually based on smaller random sampling.

The census may not seem important to most people, but it actually affects everyone living in the U.S. The census data is used to distribute federal and state funds, which has become very competitive as budgets are tightened and programs are cut. Without an accurate count, states and cities could lose out on essential funding for projects like new roads or transportation initiatives. One way this could happen is if a question on citizenship is added, causing many to avoid taking the survey for fear of repercussions. This could lead to a large under-count in population, lessening the funding to communities in need to support the true population in their jurisdiction.

Another way the census proves important is to assist planners and public leaders with guiding future growth. Planners would be lost without census data, finding it difficult to get a clear picture of who is living in their community and being able to project a reliable future population. Without good and accurate data, local governments can find themselves unprepared for growth, leading to poor development patterns that increase the cost of services like road maintenance, water and sewer infrastructure, or the adequate trails and parks. The funding shortfalls would eventually fall back to the taxpayer to help fund.

With 2020 approaching in just 6 months, the time is coming when you will be asked to participate in the census count. It only takes about 10-15 minutes of your time every ten years and makes a big impact in your life. For the first time ever, the primary response form will be online, making it even easier for you to respond. So mark your calendars for April 1, 2020, the official Census Day and do your part to help your community grow.

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