Apr 19 2010 -
A Strong Response Will Benefit Mississippi Communities
The 2010 U.S. Census is well underway, and officials are beginning to tally the census forms that many citizens mailed back by the April 16 deadline. I am troubled by the rate of participation being reported out of Mississippi. A Census Bureau survey indicated that only 62 percent of Mississippi households statewide have responded so far, compared to a 67 percent rate by the deadline in 2000.
Some people have speculated that a healthy and growing skepticism about big government may result in a lower participation rate in this year’s census. However, I would strongly suggest that ignoring the census is not a productive way to make a statement against the size and intrusiveness of today’s federal government. In fact, such leading conservatives as Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove are speaking out to ease Americans’ concerns about the purpose of the census. They are urging all Americans to participate in the counting process, which has been an important part of our democracy since the founding fathers wrote it into the Constitution.
I agree with these conservative leaders. Beginning May 1, census workers will be dispatched to households that did not mail back their forms in order to gather this important information in person. Those who have not responded by mail will still have the opportunity participate. It is my hope that every single Mississippian will stand up and be counted.
Fair Representation and Funding
The U.S. Census is an important part of American history, and it serves a key purpose. James Madison wanted to ensure that all Americans would be fairly and proportionately represented in Congress. Thus, the Constitution requires a count of all U.S. citizens to be conducted once every 10 years. The results of the census determine what portion of federal resources will be allocated to each state and how many representatives states will have in Congress. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson oversaw the first census in 1790, and a count of the U.S. population has taken place every 10 years since.
Today, we have much to gain by taking an accurate count of our state’s residents. Many important federal funding decisions are made based on state population, including support for hospitals, schools, job training centers, transportation and public works projects, emergency services, and more. The higher our state’s response to the U.S. Census, the more federal resources are available to meet the needs of local communities.
When the 2000 Census was conducted, setting Mississippi’s Congressional representation and federal funding eligibility for the decade, no one could have anticipated the unprecedented challenge of Hurricane Katrina, which would become the most devastating and costly natural disaster in U.S. history. Many of the first responders, including area non-profit organizations and local fire, emergency medical, and law enforcement agencies, rely on funding support that is often determined by population needs. Census data also impacts funding for roads and bridges. This funding is critically important as our state continues to rebuild transportation infrastructure damaged or destroyed by Katrina. An accurate population count would help our state and local entities be better prepared to respond to future challenges.
Citizen Data is Confidential
It is important to stress the confidentiality of the information collected. Citizens are never asked for their social security numbers or for information about income. Once the data is collected, it is kept private by the U.S. Census Bureau. By law, census workers and officials are prohibited from disclosing identifiable information about participants. The information will not even be shared with other federal agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the Department of Justice, to name a few. Americans’ answers may never be used against them by the government or in any court. Ultimately, the information is collected with the sole purpose of producing population statistics.
Nationwide, 68 percent of households mailed back their census forms by the April 16, 2010, deadline. In an effort to collect data from the remaining 33 percent, 600,000 census workers will visit those who have not yet responded and ask the 10 simple questions in person. I hope all Mississippi households that are visited will take a few moments to answer the census workers’ questions. We all should remember that the census is confidential, it is Constitutional and time-honored, and a good result can benefit Mississippi for the next 10 years.