Every ten years, the U.S. federal government carries out a census – basically counting every person in the country. It sounds simple on the surface, but the census is one of the most important aspects of government. Not only is it often difficult to coordinate, but it also makes a significant impact on public policy for a decade.
Most Americans respond to the census, but millions every year either ignore or only partially complete the census. If you’re on the fence this year, here’s what to know about why the census is important.
What is the Census? Why Does It Matter?
The census was one of the first items that the founding fathers included in the U.S. Consitution. In Article I, Section II of the Constitution, it says that every ten years the government should count the number of people in each state to make important decisions, including how many members the state gets in the House of Representatives.
That means every ten years, the balance of power in Congress can shift thanks to the census. After the 2010 census, for instance, 18 states had their number of representatives affected, with Texas notably gaining four seats and Ohio and New York losing two each. Filling out the census and getting counted in your state can help your own needs be better represented in government.
How Local Government is Impacted
Perhaps even more importantly, following each census, states redraw the borders of local districts. As states gain and lose new seats, they need to add or cut congressional districts. All the while, district lines are being redrawn by whichever party has a majority in that state. That means politicians can basically pick and choose what neighborhoods they represent, and help ensure they hold power for the next decade.
In addition, the census helps determine how state and federal funds are spent. The data gathered helps the government note what areas need more funding for programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
On the community level, this data helps shape how much money goes towards schools and infrastructure in your home town. All that is to say that the census is more important than it may seem on the surface. Everyone in the country is required to fill out the census, and luckily it doesn’t take much work.
Filling It Out
You can fill out the census in just a few minutes. Census Day is April 1, so by now, you should have received something in the mail prompting you to fill out the census. That letter should contain an online code that you can enter on the census website. Then, you can begin answering questions.
Even without the code, you can start the census questionnaire by answering a few extra questions. You can respond via mail or over the phone as well, but online is the easiest option.
You’ll have to answer questions about:
- Your name, telephone number, and address
- The names of anyone else living at that address, and your relation to them
- Whether you rent or own
- Your ethnicity
Everyone should care about this civic duty. Plus, it only takes a few minutes to fill out the census, but it goes a long way.