By Curt Yeomans
It comes along every 10 years and tries to reach everyone living in the United States. It asks people to fill out the forms that wil alllow them to be counted, and return the documents to the federal government. It influences how many representatives each state will get in the U.S. House of Representatives, based on where people live.
It is the federal government's census, and the time to conduct a new one will arrive next year.
"The main reason to do it is to distribute political power, with the political power being seats in the Congress," said Clayton State University Assistant Professor of Political Science Sean Mattie.
Mattie led a group discussion on the census, hosted by Clayton State's American Democracy Project chapter, in the university's School of Business building on Tuesday. Fifteen students and university employees participated in the discussion.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that seats in the U.S. House of Representatives shall be apportioned based on a count of all people living in the country that shall be taken every 10 years, according to the U. S. Census Bureau's web site.
"The purpose of this discussion was to talk about why it is important to participate in the census, as well as some of the controversies surrounding it, said Joseph Corrado, Clayton State's American Democracy Project coordinator, and an assistant professor of political science at the school.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there were 281,424,602 people living in the United States as of April 1, 2000, when the 2000 census forms were due back to the agency, according to the bureau's web site. The web site also shows that the bureau estimates that the population grew by 8 percent between the day the 2000 census forms were due back, and July 1, 2008.
Mattie said the 2010 census form will only contain 10 questions, which is down significantly from the 35 questions included on the form used in 2000. "It will be a much shorter, and condensed questionnaire than we saw in 2000," he said.
The questions on the 2010 form will be basic questions, asking for the names and ages of each person who lives in a household, and how long they have lived there, as well as inquiries about ethnicity, and household income, according to the bureau's web site.
The web site says census forms will be distributed to households throughout February and March of 2010, with the forms due back by April 1, 2010.
During the discussion at Clayton State, Mattie told participants they must answer every question on the form, if they decide to fill it out at all, and send it back to the census bureau.
"If it's not completely filled out, they will flag it, and then, the enumerators come out to your house and make you fill out the rest of the form," Mattie said.
When the topic turned to the more detailed questions included on past census forms, the students -- for the most part -- expressed no problems with being asked in-depth questions for statistical purposes.
Mattie said that, over the years, federal agencies have asked the U.S. Census Bureau to include questions, such as whether a person is on Medicaid, or Medicare, for the statistical records of the agencies. "It's also kind of a vast database that scholars and demographers can use as a treasure trove of information," he said.
Some students said they believed the demographic information was necessary for providing services, such as education, to the people who need them. But, not everyone was in support of in-depth questioning on the census form. "Can't people have a little privacy?" asked Donnarie Evers, a student.
While the students discussed the privacy issue, Corrado pointed out that the information gained from the census is used to create a broad image of where the country is on several levels. "When they ask how much money Bob makes, they're asking everyone that question so they can say, 'This many people are at this income level, and this many people are at the next income level,'" Corrado said. "It's not saying, 'Bob is a poor son of a gun.' "
As the 2010 census approaches, it will get some regular television exposure to help promote it. The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that it is also working with the Spanish-language television network, Telemundo, to include a census storyline in the network's telenovela, "Más Sabe El Diablo."
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