The 2010 Census is important to our democracy
The census is coming! The census is coming! Next month, all households in the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. island areas will receive a mailing containing the 10 questions of the 2010 Census. The goal of the census is to count every resident of these United States -- people of all ages, races, and ethnic groups, including all citizens and non-citizens, all legal and all undocumented residents.
The U.S. Constitution requires that the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives "shall be apportioned among the several States Â??cording to their respective numbers," and that "each State shall have at least one Representative." And our Constitution includes the requirement that a count of the population be taken every 10 years.
"The 2010 Census is an enormously important government effort that sets out to count all Americans," explains Mary G. Wilson, national president of the League of Women Voters. "The League is joining this effort as a national partner to enable our local, grassroots members to help achieve this goal."
The League of Women Voters of Lawrence Township is joining with the U.S. Census Bureau and other organizations in emphasizing the importance of every single resident being counted in the community in which he or she lives. We invited all residents of Mercer County to join us tomorrow at the Lawrence Headquarters Branch of Mercer County Library, on Darrah Lane at Alternate Route 1, at 7 p.m. The program is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served.
Why does this matter to New Jersey? Why should New Jerseyans complete the 2010 Census? Because the results of the census are used to allocate two of the most powerful forces in our country: money and political power. The 2010 Census will be used as the basis for most federal funding to states and communities as well as for determining the number of representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives and representatives to our state legislatures.
The goal of the 2010 Census is to provide a portrait of America today. It will document how the nation and its respective states are changing. In 2000, New Jersey had a population of 8.4 million and retained its 13th seat in the House of Representatives. New Jersey's population is currently estimated at just more than 8.7 million, an increase of 350,000 over the last 10 years. The addition of more than 293,000 people places New Jersey 22nd in population growth over the decade. Georgia and North Carolina have overtaken New Jersey during this decade, knocking us from the ninth to the 11th most populous state.
Population in the southern and western parts of New Jersey has grown at a faster rate than in the northern part of the state. Thus, legislative representation and political power can be expected to move away from Hudson and Essex counties. In another national trend, our state's cities will continue to lose population and political power to the suburban districts.
The issue of undercounting minorities and low-income residents has plagued the Census Bureau since the 1940s. The bureau has devoted extensive resources trying to reduce the undercount and in 2000 had significant success in its efforts.
"Our goal is to work with others to eliminate the "undercount' that occurs, particularly within low-income and minority populations," says Wilson. "We have been fighting to protect the rights of underrepresented communities in many arenas, including voting and elections, and immigration and health-care reforms. The census influences so many public policy decisions, we all must do our part to see that it is as accurate and inclusive as it can be."
Census information is protected by law. The Census Bureau can't share your information with anyone -- including other federal agencies and law enforcement. And everyone who works for the census must swear that they will never disclose any personal information; there are severe penalties -- up to five years in prison -- for violations.
It is crucial -- and safe -- for everyone to respond to the census form when it arrives in your mailbox. Being counted will ensure that New Jersey has its fair share of political power and federal dollars. And responding to the census will ensure that your community will receive its fair share of municipal aid. With the increase of grant-in-aid programs run by the federal government, the census has played an increasingly important role in state-federal relations. States have come to depend upon the head count to determine the proportion of federal social spending.
Collection of census data is the largest peacetime undertaking of the U.S. government, far exceeding the landing at Normandy in complexity, in the number of people involved and logistics. It is estimated that it will cost between $13 and $15 billion and employ more than 1 million part-time enumerators. For information on job opportunities with the 2010 Census, visit the census website at 2010.census.gov/.
Jane S. DeLung is a member of the League of Women Voters of Lawrence Township.
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