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Why is the U.S. census important?

Posted at 3:27 PM, Dec 31, 2019

The start of a new decade means it’s time for another U.S. census.

“This is very short. We’re talking nine questions. Basically, we’re asking what does your household look like, who’s living there, and basic demographics about the household,” regional director Cathy Lacy explains.

Lacy, who is with the U.S. Census Bureau, says the founding fathers are the ones who decided they needed an accurate representation of the country to be measured every 10 years.

“Based on the Constitution, it actually says ‘there will be an enumeration that will be conducted,' and for us, it’s the year ending in zero,” Lacy says.

Why is the U.S. census so important? According to Lacy, its significance can be broken down into three categories: power, knowledge, and money. Power refers to political weight. Census counts determine how many members each state gets to elect to the House of Representatives.

"That’s really important for our voice in Congress,” Lacy says.

Then, you have knowledge. The information collected during the census will be used as a benchmark for many government statistics in the next decade.

“If you want to know what your community needs, then you need to know what your community looks like,” Lacy says.

Census information helps measure where schools need to be built and what programs should receive funding. Without accurate representation, a community won’t know if its schools are overpopulated or if there is a need programs like immigration services.

That leads to the final topic of significance – money.

“$675 billion is distributed in federal funds every year based on census counts, so we want to make sure that that money is distributed fairly,” Lacy says.

That money can go toward infrastructure or public transportation. It can also go toward federal programs like resources for the homeless, which goes to show why it’s important for every person to be counted.

“That’s one of our most challenging operations, where we actually do count the people who are at the soup kitchens, emergency shelters, and those that are actually living on the streets,” Lacy says.

This year, the U.S. Census Bureau is hoping to have an even more accurate count than years prior. It’s using the internet as a way for people to self-respond. You can also fill out a paper questionnaire or respond over the phone. If you don’t respond in any of those ways, then someone will be sent to your door.

“Any information that we receive whether electronically or in person from respondents, those nine questions – that’s completely confidential,” Lacy says. "We like to think that we are the truth tellers of the nation. We actually show what this country looks like in that point of time -- April 1st, 2020."