Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Making Sense of the Census

April 1 is Census Day, the Census Bureau’s target date for returning your 2010 Census forms. In case you missed the government’s aggressive marketing campaign (including a giant inflatable form outside D.C.’s Union Station and a star-studded Super Bowl ad directed by Christopher Guest), the U.S. Census is conducted every ten years to count residents; its results help reallocate federal funding based on population (and can even affect the number of your state’s representatives in Congress).

After April 1, Census takers will begin to canvas neighborhoods in order to follow up with citizens who did not return their paper forms. Based on the current Mail Participation Rate, they will be busy: the current national participation rate is 50% (as of this writing, Durham County checks in just under the national average, at 47%). The Census website offers advice about census-taker visits, including tips to ensure that the visitor is a legitimate federal employee (e.g., the census taker will never ask to enter your home).

What if you wanted to participate, but never received your form in the mail? Contact the Telephone Questionnaire Assistance center in order to obtain a questionnaire. The number for service in English is 1-866-872-6868; help is also available in Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The phone lines will be open each day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. until July 30, 2010.

Whether you view the Census as an important democratic exercise or a minor personal inconvenience (or both), note that it is the law of the land: the U.S. Constitution describes basic Census procedures in Article 1, Section 2, and Title 13 of the U.S. Code expands upon the responsibilities of the Census Bureau and collection procedures. Census Bureau regulations can also be found in Title 15 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The Census website even includes an introduction to key case law on its guide to Census in the Constitution.