Participation in the 2010 U.S. census is not just a legal obligation for citizens, but also a way to guarantee fair representation in policy-making.
The census is funded and administered by the US Census Bureau which has been the major source of population data for more than two centuries. The agency works under the Department of Commerce to track the population trends in the country.
Cynthia Endo of the Los Angeles Regional Census Center said the census began in 1790 with people on horseback knocking on every door to count each person in the United States and has been done every 10 years since. She also said the census is part of the law.
“It is required and a patriotic duty to participate,” Endo said.
According to 2010census.gov, participation is mandatory. The census is part of the constitution under article 1, section 2. In the past, the census has been long and involved, making it more difficult to get people to participate, Endo said. There were 61 questions on the 2000 census form.
This year, the census will be short and simple. The form consists of 10 questions asking the name, sex, age and ethnicity of each person in the residence and whether the home owned or rented.
The form will go out in the middle of March to every residential address. April 1 is National Census Day and the date the Bureau wants people to mail the form, Endo said. The Bureau works through regional and local offices to get accurate counts of the population.
Mike Harmon is the program coordinator for San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, the local office responsible for a complete county count. He said the census is used to get an accurate picture of the county for federal funding; $400 billion is distributed annually based on census data. San Luis Obispo County receives 37 percent of its nearly $500 million annual budget from federal and state funding according to last year’s budget.
Harmon said there was an undercount in San Luis Obispo County of 4,000 people in the 2000 census.
“An undercount can mean losing up to $25 million over 10 years like last time,” he said.
Maria Dupras, head of the district office in Santa Maria, said money isn’t the only thing at stake.
Dupras said it’s important that everyone is counted not only because of federal funding but also political power. Census numbers decide the number of house representatives for each state. California currently has 53 house members. It’s important for the state to have someone lobbying in Washington in order for California to have a strong education system and it’s all based on population numbers. Transient residents can have an effect on where that funding and power end up, she said.
Students are directly affected by the dispersion of federal dollars because everyone uses services provided through the government such as education, transportation, medical and social service programs, she added.
There are nearly 18,000 Cal Poly students and another 11,000 at Cuesta College according to the schools’ Web sites. Endo said students spend nine months out of the year in the town where their school is located, so they have to be counted as part of the San Luis Obispo County population because of their impact on local services.
Harmon said students living in dorms are counted in a group quarters category, and those living off campus will receive the same questionnaire as any other household. There will be kiosks on campus with census instructions for students living in dorms. If they don’t receive one back, census takers will start knocking on those doors, Endo said.
“Take 10 minutes to fill it out, and no one will come bother you,” he said. The Bureau has to have the data on the president’s desk by midnight Dec. 31, and it will be made public shortly thereafter.