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Taking the census - Martha Carr

The census has now been collected and the information is being tabulated. All of the knocking on doors and tracking down who lived where on April 1st, the official census date, is now over until 2020.

Local and state governments can now estimate how much federal money they might receive based on their population numbers, if they've lost or gained a congressman and if there's a need for more elementary schools in one neighborhood or a hospital in another.

The basic data from the census means a thousand different trends can be spotted and better planning will be the result. The first census was taken in 1790 under the watchful eye of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. He knew the power of accurate information to keep everyone honest and build a stronger country.

Every 10 years, as dictated by the Constitution, we count every living soul regardless of whether or not they have an address. It is a part of our democratic ideals that we want to know so much about who we are as a country. The more information we gather, the easier it is to make a compelling argument for appropriate services in the right areas.

It's a part of our national voice, and is the reason why it was made a part of our Constitution, which is the underpinning to our entire democratic system.

While no personal data is released for 72 years, statistical information such as population numbers and age groups can be obtained by journalists, policy makers, or corporations looking for a new home base.

It was the census that first told the story of African Americans leaving the South in droves, and then two generations later, returning in the same numbers. Journalists spot something like that and go looking for the story behind it, which then informs the rest of us.

Knowing the racial background of a neighborhood can also alert policy makers to possible discriminatory practices. It was the census that laid bare the truth about why some southern states were trying to redraw district lines, which would have made discrimination against certain minorities easier, and diluted the power of their vote.

People were able to see just what the new line really meant and a halt was ordered. Without that picture, one of the pillars of our belief in democracy would have been threatened.

There were an estimated 48 million people who didn't return the form in the mail for a variety of reasons. Some had moved or procrastinated, but many thought they were, somehow, taking a stand against the current administration or government in general by not being counted.

Really, they were making it more difficult for themselves and the neighbors right around them to be able to make the most informed decisions about the infrastructures we all need to not only survive, but live the best lives possible.

There are certain duties we all take part in as responsible members of our communities, such as keeping our yards tidy or paying our taxes because we know that in order to live as a group we have to be accountable. The census is one of those ways.

Since I was fairly new to my neighborhood, I saw an opportunity to get to know my neighbors and the streets around me a little better and took part in gathering the remaining questionnaires. It turned out to be an opportunity to be of service to everyone by helping to accurately count my community.

However, as expected every time we reach out to help someone else, there were more rewards returned to me. The best moments were getting to know so many people and hearing a little about their lives. I ended up feeling more rooted in my neighborhood with an admiration for the diversity, creativity and general kindness of everyone.

OK, there were a few who didn't appreciate seeing me coming, but they were so few in number that it's not even worth looking back over my shoulder at those moments.

I've already seen a few of the new faces along the street or in the grocery story, both friendly and not so much, and I've waved to everyone. It's really changed the way I see where I live because I got an early look at what the numbers will eventually tell everyone else.

America is thriving even in the middle of the Great Recession, and for the most part, we all want to work together for the common good. Thanks for answering your doors everyone. More adventures to follow.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.