Census 2010: It’s easy, safe and essential

As the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, I get many questions about the upcoming 2010 Census: What is it? Why should I fill out my questionnaire? Is it safe? Is it really that important?

My days are spent working with local governments and communities, and in addition to the questions I’m asked, I also see many examples of communities and lives changed by the results of the census. I feel strongly about how important the Census is, and I’d like to share some information with you.

As required by the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Census Bureau has been conducting population counts since 1790, and the decennial census has taken place every 10 years since then. In fact, it’s mandated by the U. S. Constitution that the population be counted once every decade. The Census counts every person living in the US — every race, every ethnicity, citizens and non-citizens alike. This count is conducted mostly through questionnaires that are mailed to each housing unit, although in certain communities Census Bureau employees go from home to home collecting information. When a household doesn’t return their questionnaire, the Census Bureau follows up with additional mailings and visits.

Most of us have heard of the Census, but not everyone knows why it is so important or how the data collected helps Coloradans and their communities.

Each year the federal government allocates from the federal taxes more than $400 billion to states and communities for important programs like schools and libraries, road improvements, parks and health services. This funding is allocated in large part based on Census data. In Colorado it is estimated that we receive $880 per person counted, or a total of $4.27 billion per year. These are dollars that Colorado needs, which is why it’s so very important that each household take the time to complete and return its census questionnaire.

In addition to being important, the census is also easy and safe.

There are just 10 questions, and it will only take about 10 minutes to fill out and drop back in the mail. I know that safety is also a big concern in today’s world. We seem to get warnings daily about issues like identity theft, and it’s only natural that Coloradans would be concerned about what sort of information the Census Bureau is collecting. The only information collected on the questionnaire is your name, your address, your race and ethnicity, whether you rent or own your home, the number of people currently living there and their relationship to the householder. They do not ask for your social security number. Once the information has been collected, it remains safe. Your answers are protected by the US Constitution, and no government agency, court of law, or even the President can get access to your information. In fact, all Census Bureau employees are subject to a $250,000 fine and/or 5 years in prison if they share any of your information.

The 2010 Census is easy and safe, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to the beautiful state of Colorado. Achieving an accurate Census count in 2010 will help to define the future of our state. Every single one of us needs do our part, so when that questionnaire shows up in your mailbox next March, please complete it and mail it back. Colorado is counting on you!

Susan Kirkpatrick is the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs