"I'm a busy person. Why do I have to fill out this U.S. Census form, anyhow?"
"The U.S. Constitution says that every 10 years, the federal government must count every resident in the United States. It sounds simple, but what it really comes down to is politics and money."
"How does it involve politics?"
"There are 435 seats in the U.S. House. The government uses the population count to determine the number of seats your state will have. In 2002, after the 2000 census results were tallied, 12 seats moved across 18 states."
"Change happens. What's the big deal?"
"When a state gains or loses seats, the political party in power redraws congressional districts with hopes of making it impossible for the other party to win."
"Politicians would do that? I'm shocked. But what does the census have to do with money?"
"It determines, says the census form, the 'amount of government money your neighborhood will receive.' The idea is that the more people the census determines to be living in a region, the greater percentage of federal dough that region will receive. You better fill out the form to get your fair share."
"Wait a second. I work hard and pay taxes to the federal government. The government skims off its share, then sends what is left back to me based on the number of people who live in my neighborhood?"
"You're beginning to understand. The government sends your neighborhood money to fix roads, build bridges and fund all kinds of government programs -- so that your House member can take credit."
"That doesn't sound like a very efficient way to use my money."
"It's much worse than that. Our government is spending hundreds of billions more than it is taking in. It is borrowing that money. Your children and grandchildren will be saddled with the cost of that debt."
"People not yet born are already in debt? But how does this tie into the census?"
"If the people in your neighborhood don't complete the census form, some other neighborhood will receive your children's and grandchildren's hard-earned money -- that would be immoral!"
"I'll complete the form as soon as I get it. Is it difficult?"
"Not at all. There are 10 questions. You are asked to state your name, sex, age, race, telephone number and whether you own or rent your home. There are no questions about your religion, whether you are a legal U.S. resident or if you have a Social Security number."
"That figures. I'd be happy to say what my religion and Social Security number are, but I'm touchy about giving my age. What if I choose to keep some of this information private?"
"If you don't complete and mail the form by April 1, census workers will come to your home. If you don't cooperate with them, criminal charges may be filed or you may be fined up to $100. Besides, the information is to be kept private."
"OK, then let me get it all straight: I need to complete the entire form by April 1 to ensure that my state counts as many people as possible, so that my representative will be able to take credit for as much government spending as possible, and so that my neighborhood will receive its fair share of my children's and grandchildren's hard-earned money?"
"Now you've got it."
"Too bad the census people can't collect information of people who aren't born yet."
"Why is that?"
"If we had their future addresses, we could send them cards to thank them for so generously advancing us billions of dollars of their hard-earned dough."
Tom Purcell, a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Visit Tom on the web at www.TomPurcell.com, or e-mail him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.