By Guest Blogger Eli Samuel Serrano, National Partnership Nerve Center, U.S. Census Bureau
At its most basic level, the purpose of the United States census is very simple – to count everyone living in the U.S., which includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Island Areas. Section 1, Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution provides that mandate, and the count has been accomplished every 10 years since 1790.
But the census is about a lot more than just arithmetic. It’s about empowerment. Census data directly affect how more than $400 billion per year in federal funding is allocated to local, state and tribal governments – that’s $4 trillion over a 10-year period. It also plays a vital role in supporting our democracy by ensuring that each state and community receives its fair share of political representation through congressional apportionment and redistricting. Census totals determine the number of seats in the House of Representatives assigned to each state and are used to revise the geographical boundaries within a state from which people elect their representatives, both nationally and locally.
Participation in the 2010 Census is also important because Congress has passed many laws that affect us and depend on census data. Some of those laws include the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, the National Affordable Housing Act, the Veteran’s Benefit Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The census is the largest domestic activity undertaken by the federal government. In mid-March, we mailed or delivered questionnaires to more than 130 million housing units, and we expect to count about 310 million residents.
The 2010 Census questionnaire consists of 10 short questions that will take about 10 minutes to complete. The form asks:
- The number of people living in the residence
- Any additional people that might be living there as of April 1, 2010
- Whether the residence is owned or rented
- Telephone number (in case the Census Bureau has follow-up questions)
- Age and date of birth
- Whether of Hispanic Origin
- Whether that person sometimes lives somewhere else
You should have received your 2010 Census form in the mail by now. It’s important that you answer the questions completely and mail the form back. Remember that you should answer both the race question as well as the Hispanic-origin question. Answers to both are important so the census can obtain and present a true portrait of America.
This year, we also introduced the first-ever English/Spanish bilingual questionnaire, which was delivered to about 13 million households in areas that have a high concentration of Spanish speakers. In addition, there are assistance guides available in 59 languages, and nearly 3,000 local partnership staffers who speak 124 different languages to help those who may have limited English proficiency. Spanish forms can be obtained by request from our toll free Telephone Assistance Centers (phone numbers for telephone assistance can be found by visiting http://2010.census.gov/2010census/contact/index.php).
Replacement report forms will be mailed to households that did not initially respond and can also be obtained by calling the Census Bureau’s Telephone Assistance Centers. You can find out more information by going to the 2010 Census Web site at http://2010.census.gov/2010census/, following us on Twitter (http://twitter.com/uscensusbureau), or visiting our fan page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/uscensusbureau).
Our goal is to get as many residents as we can to return their completed census forms when they’re mailed or delivered this month. When households do not respond, then we have to start the very expensive procedure of sending census takers door to door to obtain the information.
Numerous organizations have signed on to spread the word about the 2010 Census. In fact, Disability.gov recently joined this effort. The Census Bureau has strong partnerships that have surpassed 200,000 nationwide. These organizations understand the importance of participation in the census and have pledged their commitment to share the 2010 Census message and mobilize their constituents and resources in support of the goal of achieving a complete count.
It is also important to understand that the census is safe. The Census Bureau takes extreme measures to protect the identity of individuals who answer the census. And by law, the Census Bureau cannot share your individually identifiable answers with ANYONE (including housing authorities, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the police or the Internal Revenue Service). All Census Bureau employees take the oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect the confidentiality of the data. The penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment of up to five years, or both.
Since 1790, the very foundation of our American democracy has rested on census results. Let’s continue that tradition by making this the most accurate and complete census count in the history of this nation. The Census Bureau is counting on you to help us make that happen!
Eli Samuel Serrano is participating in his fourth census with the U.S. Census Bureau. He works with the National Partnership Program to encourage participation in the 2010 Census after many years as the Census Bureau’s small business ombudsman.