U.S. Census - are you going to participate?

The U.S. government sent out the 2010 Census this past week. The Census is an important tool which helps determine several issues such as electoral lines, population patterns and other significant data points.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor

The U.S. government sent out the 2010 Census this past week. The Census is an important tool which helps determine several issues such as electoral lines, population patterns and other significant data points. A lot has changed in the 10 years since the last one was taken. This year it's short and quick. The budget for the 2010 Census is $7.2 Billion dollars.

Asking just 10 questions and taking only about 10 minutes to complete, the 2010 Census form is one of the shortest in U.S. history. The displays will familiarize the public with the look and feel of the form and its 10 questions, increasing awareness and motivating mail participation.

In 2000, the nation reversed a three-decade decline in mail rates, achieving a participation rate of 72 percent. The Census Bureau is challenging the nation to "Take 10" minutes to improve upon that rate in 2010.

This year there's also another twist. Should the Census be placed online? Doing so would save taxpayers a lot of money.

When households don't return the form, census takers must go to the homes to get the answers to the questionnaires, driving up the cost of the census. If everyone across the nation mailed back their form, taxpayers could reduce the cost of taking the census by about $1.5 billion.

"I'd like nothing more than to return money to the taxpayers following this census because they mailed back the census forms at a record rate," said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves. "In the end, the American public's willingness to participate in the 2010 Census will determine its success and how much money we're able to return to Congress."

By putting the census online, would participation rates increase and collect valuable information faster and enable government to respond in kind with a better understanding of its citizens.

One issue this year is the type of questions being asked and are they infringing upon one's privacy and need to know. The Census states clearly:

It’s Safe: Your Personal Information is Confidential by Law

All census responses are confidential; they are protected by law and not shared with anyone. The Census Bureau takes extreme measures to protect the identity of individuals and businesses. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents’ individually identifiable answers with anyone, including tribal housing authorities, other federal agencies and law enforcement entities. All Census Bureau employees take the oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect the confidentiality of the data. The penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment of up to five years or both.

The 10 questions are:

The census mailing package includes a cover letter, the 2010 Census form and a postage-paid return envelope. The 10 questions are basic and should take about 10 minutes to complete. The 2010 Census asks the following questions:

    1. The number of people living in the residence 2. Any additional people that might be living there as of April 1, 2010 3. Whether the residence is owned or rented 4. Telephone number (in case the Census Bureau has follow-up questions) 5. Name 6. Sex 7. Age and date of birth 8. Whether of Hispanic origin 9. Race 10. Whether that person sometimes lives somewhere else

Participation is required by U.S. Law.
10. Do I have to respond to the 2010 Census?
Yes, your participation in the 2010 Census is vital and required by law. Title 13 section 221 of the United States Code requires your response. Title 13 also requires that the Census Bureau keep respondents’ answers confidential and uses them only for tabulations that do not reveal any personal data about individuals or households.
11. What happens if I don’t respond?
Although the law makes it a crime not to answer the decennial census, the American Community Survey and other mandatory censuses, and authorizes the courts to impose a fine of up to $5,000 for failure to respond, the Census Bureau views this approach as a last resort. Rather than emphasizing or seeking the imposition of penalties, we encourage response by explaining
the importance of the questions we ask and how the information benefits
the community.
Update: Census Bureau Director Robert Groves confirmed during a C-SPAN interview that no long form version was published. Groves was asked if it's likely anyone would be fined this year. "If I was a betting man, the answer is no"

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Additional resources:

Constitution Section - Article I - Section II

Electronic voting: Changing the world faster than a Windows upgrade

FCC wants public comment on digital democracy - voting online

Congress report card: track your House and Senate representative

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