“The numbers are used for many things ... They determine local legislative districts,” Bittner said. “The numbers are also important from a funding aspect, as they determine state revenue distributions for towns and counties. And …
Numbers determine federal fundingAround mid-March, 2010 Census forms will begin turning up in the community. Some households will receive their forms via mail; questionnaires will be dropped off at other locations. How a household receives the census form is not important. But Amy Bittner, an economist with the State Economic Analysis Division, said the numbers collected by the census have significant implications.
“The numbers are used for many things ... They determine local legislative districts,” Bittner said. “The numbers are also important from a funding aspect, as they determine state revenue distributions for towns and counties. And the census is used for planning purposes, to help local governments work on business and economic development, as well as infrastructure.”
Census numbers also are used to determine federal funding for various programs, including some heath care, employment, school and other programs — think temporary assistance to needy families, Head Start, Title One, veterans' programs, alcohol abuse and prevention and senior citizens' services.
It is estimated that the 2010 Census should take only about 10 minutes to complete. It consists of 10 questions relating to household members' family, race, sex, age, relationship, type of home, etc. According to Bittner, the questions are “very, very basic.”
The U.S. Constitution mandates a nationwide census every 10 years. The first was in 1790, with Wyoming taking part for the first time in 1870. The aim is, of course, to count everyone living in the United States — including homeless people, transients and illegal aliens.
“With some people — like illegal immigrants — there's a fear (of deportation) if they fill out a census survey,” she said. “But that's something that's not possible. The U.S. Census Bureau stresses confidentiality. Records are kept confidential for 72 years, and they can't release census figures to any other federal agencies. The census counts everyone living in the United States, and it doesn't ask about status, whether someone is undocumented, illegal or (here) on a green card.”
Households that receive their census forms in the mail can expect to hear census workers knocking at their doors if they don't return their questionnaires in quick order.
“I try to stress if people fill out their forms right away, they won't get a knock on the door,” Bittner said. “In this day and age, people are really concerned about privacy.”
Others, such as residents in what the Census Bureau calls “group quarters” — dorms, nursing homes and the like — receive no follow-up from census workers, so it's especially important for them to return their forms.
“College students have traditionally been hard to count. For the census, they're counted according to where they go to school ... They (college students) may not feel like they have a requirement to fill it out,” she added, “especially since every other study associates them with a permanent, home residence.
“It's really important for college students in the dorms to fill theirs out right away. There's no follow-up with that population, except for off-campus students.”
People should also be aware, said Bittner, that no census activity takes place via e-mail or the Internet.
“If someone is contacted that way, it's most likely a scam,” she said. In addition, “the census will never ask for Social Security numbers or credit card or banking information.”
According to Bittner, “Whether people realize it or not, they're affected by getting an accurate population count.