Friday, March 5, 2010

Government starts nationwide head count

2010 Census forms mailed out

Express Staff Writer

It's time to stand up and be counted. The melting pot known as the U.S.A. is about to get sorted out.

The 2010 Census will officially begin on April 1, marking the largest domestic mobilization that our country conducts. Nonetheless, some valley residents have already received forms asking them to answer "10 questions in 10 minutes."

Personal information gathered by the census is kept private for 72 years, said Stacy McBain, Idaho media specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau. But she said the information will be essential in determining where government services are needed most.

"The spending that is apportioned based on census data amounts to about $1,400 per person in the U.S.," she said.

McBain said thousands of census workers will spend the next year counting citizens and gathering information (at a cost of $7 billion) on the many distinct populations that make up the country.

The U.S. Census Bureau provides abundant information about Idaho on a county-by-county basis; there are 15.6 people per square mile in the Gem State, compared with 79.6 people per square mile nationwide.

Idaho per-capita income is $17,841, compared with a national average of $21,587. Blaine County incomes are nearly double the state's average at $31,346.

The first national census, in 1790, asked how many slaves were in each household. Times have changed, but census information is still gathered every 10 years on employment, poverty, non-native populations and business ownership to inform public policy.

"There are some hard to reach segments of the population. The very young, the very old, and males aged 18 to 25 are hard to track," said McBain. McBain said non-native-born populations are also hard to count. But without a true assessment of populations in even remote areas, funding may never get where it is needed.

The demographic information gathered by the census will be used to fund a vast array of public services, from hospitals, libraries and emergency services to school lunches, health and welfare programs and street-fixing crews.

"We rarely walk out the door without experiencing some service that is supported by census data," McBain said.

"It's easy, safe and important. This census questionnaire is one of the shortest in history. It has ten questions and takes about ten minutes to complete."

McBain said 90 percent of census questionnaires are mailed to homes across the country. Participants are urged to fill them out and send them back to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 10 percent of census questionnaires are hand-delivered to homes or conducted in person by census workers knocking on doors in hard-to-reach areas of the country.

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