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What Census questions do I have to answer?

Post by John Henrikson / The News Tribune on March 18, 2010 at 6:15 am | 23 Comments »
March 18, 2010 10:12 am

Rick O. from Puyallup called this week with a question about the 2010 Census forms, which have started to arrive in mailboxes. He had heard that you were only required to furnish a count of the people in your household and that the other questions (age, birthdate, gender, relationship, race, Hispanic origin) were optional. He wonders why, if the primary reason for the census is to reapportion congressional seats, does the government need to know all the other details? When he called the Census Bureau, he couldn’t get a satisfactory answer, so he called the newspaper.

The notion that you’re only required to provide a count seems to have gained currency in some circles, so much so that the Census Bureau included it among the frequently asked questions on its Web site.

(Question) I was sent an email warning me not to provide any information to census takers other than the number of people living in my home. Is that the only question I need to answer on the census?

(Answer) No. Each of the 10 questions on the census form are mandatory and required by law, so please answer all of them.

If you don’t mail back your completed form in a timely manner, a census taker will come to your door to record your answers to the questions on the form.

… Please also be aware that the e-mail you received about the 2010 Census, which falsely claimed to be from the Better Business Bureau, is inaccurate and the Census Bureau, in partnership with the BBB, is advising the public to get the facts.

The law that you must cooperate with the Census is spelled out in Section 221, of Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

Rick is correct in noting that the census is used for redistricting, but it’s also used to allocate federal and state dollars and the demographic picture it provides is used by government, researchers, journalists and businesses to examine trends and make decisions.

On its Web site, the Census Bureau goes into detail about why it’s being so nosy. Below are the justifications for all of the questions on your census form.

How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?

We ask this question to help get an accurate count of the number of people in the household on Census Day, April 1, 2010. The answer should be based on the guidelines in the ‘Start here’ section. We use the information to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.

Were there any additional people staying here April 1, 2010 that you did not include in Question 1?

Asked since 1880. We ask this question to help identify people who may have been excluded in the count provided in Question 1. We use the information to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.

Is this house, apartment, or mobile home: owned with mortgage, owned without mortgage, rented, occupied without rent?

Asked since 1890. Homeownership rates serve as an indicator of the nation’s economy. The data are also used to administer housing programs and to inform planning decisions.

What is your telephone number?

We ask for a phone number in case we need to contact a respondent when a form is returned with incomplete or missing information.

Please provide information for each person living here. Start with a person here who owns or rents this house, apartment, or mobile home. If the owner or renter lives somewhere else, start with any adult living here. This will be Person 1. What is Person 1’s name?

Listing the name of each person in the household helps the respondent to include all members, particularly in large households where a respondent may forget who was counted and who was not. Also, names are needed if additional information about an individual must be obtained to complete the census form. Federal law protects the confidentiality of personal information, including names.

What is Person 1’s sex?

Asked since 1790. Census data about sex are important because many federal programs must differentiate between males and females for funding, implementing and evaluating their programs. For instance, laws promoting equal employment opportunity for women require census data on sex. Also, sociologists, economists, and other researchers who analyze social and economic trends use the data.

What is Person 1’s age and Date of Birth?

Asked since 1800. Federal, state, and local governments need data about age to interpret most social and economic characteristics, such as forecasting the number of people eligible for Social Security or Medicare benefits. The data are widely used in planning and evaluating government programs and policies that provide funds or services for children, working-age adults, women of childbearing age, or the older population.

Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?

Asked since 1970. The data collected in this question are needed by federal agencies to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as under the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State and local governments may use the data to help plan and administer bilingual programs for people of Hispanic origin.

What is Person 1’s race?

Asked since 1790. Race is key to implementing many federal laws and is needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State governments use the data to determine congressional, state and local voting districts. Race data are also used to assess fairness of employment practices, to monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education and to plan and obtain funds for public services.

Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else?

This is another question we ask in order to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.

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