The census counts … for many things

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 10, 2000

At the turn of the last century, Mississippi had eight representatives in the U.S. House. We’re down to five. And early census data indicates we could lose another member of the House after this year’s census is complete.

In 1990, only 60 percent of Adams County residents returned their census data forms.

It might not seem like a big deal, but the census numbers are used for everything from reapportioning the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to distributing more than $100 billion in federal funds.

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Census workers estimate that the 40 percent of Adams County’s population who didn’t return their forms resulted in a loss of $13 million to the area.

The Census Bureau has identified some of the top reasons U.S. residents should return their census forms:

Help your community thrive. Knowing census numbers can help a community develop public improvement strategies.

Get help in times of need. Many 911 emergency systems are based on maps developed from the last census. The information helps health providers predict the spread of disease through communities and tells rescuers how many people will need help in the event of a disaster.

Make government work for you. Census numbers are used to help determine the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal and state funds – everything from hospitals to highways, stadiums to school lunches.

Reduce risk for American businesses. Because census numbers help industry reduce financial risk and locate potential markets, businesses are able to produce the products you want.

On April 1, census forms will be mailed to every residence in Adams County and across the country.

Most people will get the short form, which features eight questions for the first person — usually the head of the household — and six questions for each additional person.

The long form will be mailed to every sixth household; it just has a few more detailed questions than the short form.

The long form provides socio-economic details that are necessary for a wide range of government programs and federal requirements. To assure the same level of accuracy, a larger share of housing units in small towns and rural counties receive this form.

Community leaders use the long form for planing a wide range of activities, including neighborhood revitalization, economic development and improved facilities and services.

Census workers have found that one of the main reasons people don’t return census forms is their fear if privacy — which is understandable, considering the questions, which are about age, race and gender.

But the U.S. Census Bureau protects the people who return their forms.

By law, the bureau cannot share answers with the IRS, FBI, Welfare, Immigration or any other government agency. Census workers are sworn to secrecy, and they face a $5,000 fine and five-year prison term if they give out any information they see on a form.

In 1990, millions of forms were processed without a single breach of trust.

So, the push is on for census workers — many of them volunteers — on the local, state and federal level to let people know how important it is to answer a few simple questions.

It takes a few minutes. But if people don’t return their forms, the difference it makes can be tremendous – one less person to represent our state in Washington to the loss millions of dollars worth of grant and aid money.

Kerry Whipple is a senior staff writer at The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 446-5172, ext. 262, or by e-mail at