Citizenship question or no, you will hear a lot more about the importance of the U.S. Census between now and next April 1.

Census numbers determine political district boundaries. Population and demographic information is also used to determine federal funding. So there are real benefits.

But census data also gives us a clear, fascinating snapshot of our nation, states, counties, cities and towns. It’s who we are, demographically speaking.

A few takeaways from the last census, in 2010, and :

• The United States had 308,745,538 people. Some 157,000 million respondents were female and 151.8 million male.

• The population increased by 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010.

As for some U.S. Census basics:

• The official count includes the District of Columbia and 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

• The U.S. Census is not intended to count citizens only. The count includes legal residents, undocumented immigrants and long-term visitors.

• The Census Bureau focuses on people in residential structures and uses an extensive street mapping system. Before the official count gets underway, local census workers review maps to verify new dwellings or old ones that no longer exist.

• Individuals are counted in their “usual residence,” a primary residence. That means if you live four months in Punta Gorda and eight months in Dayton, Ohio, you will be counted in Dayton. If you are a Chicopee, Mass., resident visiting your sister in North Port on the day a census worker happens by, you count for Chicopee only.

Also included in “usual residence” listings are those in nursing homes, military personnel or the homeless. The point, ultimately, is to count people where they live most of the time, once and only once.

• The count, formally, is based on residency on a single day: Census Day, April 1, 2020.

• The Census Bureau expects a total of roughly 140 million households will be included in the count.

• About 95 percent of those households will receive U.S. Census questionnaires in their mailbox. People will be able to complete the survey online this year, the first time ever. Telephone responses also will be used.

• If the Census Bureau does not receive your reply by a certain date, your residence will be flagged for an in-person interview. Sometimes, surveys are sent in but not received by that date, so workers are sent out for home visits. While this can lead to confusion, the personal interview is the document that must be used.

• Included in the original Constitution was a requirement for a census count every 10 years, specifically for the apportionment of “representatives and direct Taxes.” You are required by law to participate by answering the most basic questions, and the penalty is $100 for refusing outright and $500 for lying. However, in the past 50 years, no one has been prosecuted.

• The basic information asked includes the number of people in a household, their relationship to one another, their age, sex and race. Individuals self-identify.

Bottom line, the census is important in terms of political representation and the allotment of federal funding. It’s also important to our understanding of who were are as a people, writ large.

An editorial from the Charlotte Sun.


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