Make sure you’re counted: Why it’s important to complete the U.S. Census questionnaire Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Mar. 18, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

We should be receiving the 2010 U.S. census form in the mail soon. The Census Bureau assures us that this is one of the shortest forms in history. With just 10 questions, most people should be able to complete the form in 10 minutes.

Every person in each household is counted and must answer seven questions about name, gender, race, ethnicity, and whether they sometimes live somewhere else. The head of the household indicates how many people live in the residence; whether it is a house, apartment, or mobile home; and provides a telephone number for census workers to follow up if any information is incomplete or missing.

editor's view by Mary C. Uhler

The United States has taken a census every 10 years since 1790. Required by the U.S. Constitution, the census will attempt to count every single person residing in the United States on April 1, 2010.

Besides the 50 states, the census also counts people living in American Somoa, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Why it’s important

Why should we complete the census? Perhaps the most important reason is that census results will help determine how more than $400 billion in federal funds will be allocated in communities across the country each year. This includes funding for schools, hospitals, job training centers, senior centers, roads, parks, and other services.

The 2010 census will also determine representation of various areas of the country in Congress. The data collected helps determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives (each state has two seats in the Senate no matter what the population).

The Census Bureau’s Web site ( also notes that people from many walks of life use census data in a variety of ways. Among them are to advocate for causes, rescue disaster victims, prevent diseases, research markets, or locate pools of skilled workers.

“When you do the math, it’s easy to see what an accurate count of residents can do for your community. Better infrastructure. More services. A brighter tomorrow for everyone,” says the Web site.

Parishes can help

Catholic parishes are being encouraged to play a role in ensuring that everyone is counted, according to a Catholic News Service article. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat on Cultural Diversity in the Church is urging parishes to provide concrete assistance, such as help completing the census form or finding language assistance for those who need it.

With 19,000 Catholic parishes and thousands of social service agencies, health care facilities, and educational institutions, the Catholic Church is in a unique position to reach many people and convince them that it’s important to be counted, said Beverly Carroll of the USCCB staff.

Particularly among communities that are hard to reach and hard to count, “we have a certain credibility, so people are more apt to be listening,” Carroll said.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of San Antonio said the statistics gathered in the census can serve more than governmental purposes. “The U.S. census is a useful tool for learning about God’s people, who and where they are, and many other facts that shed light on their lives, possibilities, and struggles,” he said. “A Church that seeks to evangelize is characterized by outreach. The U.S. census gives us important information to do that.”

No census questions on religion

The census does not ask about people’s religion. The Census Bureau has been forbidden by law since 1976 from including any mandatory questions about a person’s religious beliefs or membership in a Church.

Instead, the bureau has collected data on places of worship and other establishments operated by religious bodies through its annual survey of county business patterns. The Census Bureau publishes information about religious affiliation and religious organizations in its annual Statistical Abstract, but the information is gathered from noncensus sources.

Fill out the form and send it in

One last point. If you fill out the form you receive in the mail and send it back, you will be saving the government about $25 by not requiring a census taker to visit your home. Mark your calendar for National Census Day on April 1 and mail your form back by that date.