Making Sense of the Census

  • We’re talking to you…

    If, like me, you haven’t filled out and mailed in your census form yet, then you might want to consider taking a few minutes to complete it. This year there are just 10 questions to answer, which makes it one of the shortest censuses in the history of censuses, according to the Census Bureau (the census dates back to the 1600s, though the first official American census occurred in 1790). If don’t fill it out and send it in, then there’s a good likelihood that you will receive a visit from one of the tens of thousands of census workers the government recently hired to knock on doors (and boost our jobs numbers). If you hear them knocking, don’t pretend that you’re not home. Open the door and answer those census questions. Here’s why. Photo Credit: eiratansey
    Why Bother?
  • Why Bother?

    Every year the government doles out more than $400 billion to communities that need financial help. How do they determine which communities are in need? You guessed it. The census. And don’t just take the government’s word for it. The Brookings Institute recent census report “Counting for Dollars”  notes that in fiscal year 2008, “215 federal domestic assistance programs used census-related data to guide the distribution of $446.7 billion, 31 percent of all federal assistance. Census-guided grants accounted for $419.8 billion, 75 percent of all federal grant funding.” Plus, Americans are required by law to participate. If they fail to, they could be subject to as much as a $100 fine. If they fill out false information, the fine gets bumped up to as much as $500. Photo Credit: plutor
    So what are they asking and why?
  • So what are they asking and why?

    The ten questions included in this year’s census are reasonably straightforward.  We’ll go through each of them now, and include the government’s reasons for asking them. Following the questions, we'll take a look at how government funds are allocated based on census results and why some citizens seem repelled by the census. Now, on to the first question. Photo Credit: Quinn.anya
    Question 1
  • Question 1

    How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010? The government’s reason for asking: “We ask this question to help get an accurate count of the number of people in the household on Census Day, April 1, 2010. The answer should be based on the guidelines in the 'Start here' section. We use the information to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.” Photo Credit:
    Question 2
  • Question 2

    Were there any additional people staying here April 1, 2010 that you did not include in Question 1? The government’s reason for asking: “We ask this question to help identify people who may have been excluded in the count provided in Question 1. We use the information to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.” Photo Credit:
    Question 3
  • Question 3

    Is this house, apartment, or mobile home: owned with mortgage, owned without mortgage, rented, occupied without rent? The government’s reason for asking: “Homeownership rates serve as an indicator of the nation's economy. The data are also used to administer housing programs and to inform planning decisions.” Photo Credit:
    Question 4
  • Question 4

    What is your telephone number? The government’s reason for asking: “We ask for a phone number in case we need to contact a respondent when a form is returned with incomplete or missing information.” Photo Credit:
    Question 5
  • Question 5

    Please provide information for each person living here. Start with a person here who owns or rents this house, apartment, or mobile home. If the owner or renter lives somewhere else, start with any adult living here. This will be Person 1. What is Person 1's name? The government’s reason for asking: “Listing the name of each person in the household helps the respondent to include all members, particularly in large households where a respondent may forget who was counted and who was not. Also, names are needed if additional information about an individual must be obtained to complete the census form. Federal law protects the confidentiality of personal information, including names.” Note: So, questions 5-10 need to be filled out for every member of your family, so unless you live alone, you really have more than 10 questions to fill out. But as you see, these aren’t exactly 5,000 word essays. Photo Credit:
    Question 6
  • Question 6

    What is Person 1's sex? The government’s reason for asking: “Asked since 1790. Census data about sex are important because many federal programs must differentiate between males and females for funding, implementing and evaluating their programs. For instance, laws promoting equal employment opportunity for women require census data on sex. Also, sociologists, economists, and other researchers who analyze social and economic trends use the data.” Photo Credit:
    Question 7
  • Question 7

    What is Person 1's age and Date of Birth? The government’s reason for asking: “Asked since 1800. Federal, state, and local governments need data about age to interpret most social and economic characteristics, such as forecasting the number of people eligible for Social Security or Medicare benefits. The data are widely used in planning and evaluating government programs and policies that provide funds or services for children, working-age adults, women of childbearing age, or the older population.” Photo Credit:
    Question 8
  • Question 8

    Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin? The government’s reason for asking: “Asked since 1970. The data collected in this question are needed by federal agencies to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as under the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State and local governments may use the data to help plan and administer bilingual programs for people of Hispanic origin.” Photo Credit:
    Question 9
  • Question 9

    What is Person 1's race? The government’s reason for asking: “Asked since 1790. Race is key to implementing many federal laws and is needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State governments use the data to determine congressional, state and local voting districts. Race data are also used to assess fairness of employment practices, to monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education and to plan and obtain funds for public services.” Photo Credit:
    Question 10
  • Question 10

    Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else? The government’s reason for asking: “This is another question we ask in order to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.” Photo Credit:
    Where does the money go?
  • Where does the money go?

    As we noted earlier, the answers to these questions help the government figure out how many people live where, and they use that information to allocate money to different federal state and local programs. The Brookings Institute recent report has among other things, put together a list of the “ten largest census-guided assistance programs” from fiscal year 2008. All these programs use census data to decide where to allocate funds. Here are a few. - The federal Medical Assistance Program, which is run by the Department of Health and Human Services, doles out more than $261 billion. - The federal Highway Program allocates more than $36 billion
    - The federal government awards more than $10 billion in special education grants. For the rest, take a look at page 11 of this report. Photo Credit:  aresauburn
    Still not convinced?
  • Still not convinced?

    There are plenty of Americans who don’t want to participate in the census for a variety of reasons. Minority and immigrant populations are traditionally underrepresented in the census, as the Associated Press notes. “Language barriers keep some from filling out their forms, while others haven't been in the country long enough to understand that congressional districts are drawn up and federal resources allocated based on the count. Still others are wary of cooperating with a public agency like the Census Bureau because of fears over confidentiality or feelings that they've been neglected by the government in the past.” The year the government is spending $140 million to target these groups in particular with the hope of boosting participation. Photo Credit: bionicteaching
    Politicizing the Census
  • Politicizing the Census

    Some groups are refusing to complete the census as a form of political protest. The Wall Street Journal notes that certain people associated with the tea-party movement, as well as libertarians, have been less than supportive of the effort. “Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), who is admired by many tea-party activists and ultra-conservatives, has said she will refuse to provide information about anything except the number of people in her household. Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), a former presidential candidate with a small but ardent following, was the only lawmaker to vote against a recent congressional resolution urging participation in the census.” This could ultimately work against their political interests, however. The data gathered by the census helps the government to calculate population density in the United States, and those determinations are used to inform where congressional districts are drawn. If certain political groups don’t participate in the census, that could result in them being underrepresented in congress in coming years. Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue
    Skepticism has its place…
  • Skepticism has its place…

    So hopefully now you have a better idea of what the census is and how it is used. There’s definitely a time and place for government skepticism, however, as we recently demonstrated in our post about the most corrupt politicians in America. I wonder if these guys sent in their census. Photo Credit: hellohowareyoudoing
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