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Susquehanna Life

Make it Count for Pennsylvania

Mar 12, 2020 11:23PM

Many people consider the U.S. decennial census simply a count of all of the people in the United States, which is what the U.S. Constitution calls for as a minimum. 

“All residents living in the United States are required to fill out the decennial census,” said Jewel Jordan with the U.S. Census Bureau office in Philadelphia.

But for each of the 23 U.S. Censuses taken, additional information also has been collected. When East Buffalo Township and Lewisburg, Union County, sought to determine whether the municipal government needed to provide a recycling program for their citizens, for example, officials used population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Census data figures in a lot of our plans,” said John Del Vecchio, Union County community planner/housing facilitator. “When townships or municipalities need to know whether they are meeting participation levels in recycling programs, or other programs, they use census numbers.”


Drawing lines

In fact, census information is used for a variety of purposes as governments determine legislatives boundaries and school districts, and decide where to designate spending money for various programs. This is an important census for Pennsylvania, in particular, because estimates show that the commonwealth may lose a seat in Congress due to dwindling population. 

Nonprofit organizations often use census data to support their need requests when writing grants. Corporations use the data to determine where to locate new businesses. The federal government uses census data to determine where to allocate approximately $675 billion in federal program spending.

By April 1, 2020, every home will be mailed an invitation to take part in the 2020 Census. The U.S. Constitution requires the census be taken every 10 years and, by law, you must take part. Most people receive the short form, which is just a handful of questions that can be answered by phone, mail or online. The census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790, but this is the first time residents have an option to fill out the information online.  

Money for new schools and roads starts with census data that identify growing populations that need to ease overcrowded classrooms and high-traffic roads. Where the need is greater, more money for the appropriate programs is sent to those areas.

Participation in the census is especially important for rural areas to ensure the most-accurate information.

“Sometimes the data needed [for small, rural areas] gets lost in the margin of error,” Del  Vecchio added.


This is important

Just as the law requires all U.S. residents, whether citizens or not, to participate in the census, the law also protects information collected from them. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau website, “Your answers can only be used to produce statistics—they cannot be used against you in any way. By law, all responses to U.S. Census Bureau household and business surveys are kept completely confidential.” No government agency or court can use your information. It won’t be used by the sheriff’s department to locate a felon or by ICE to find illegal immigrants. Income you list won’t be used in a divorce case or your name won’t be used to track down a deadbeat parent.

The online census form went live March 12, but the official Census Day is April 1. If you haven’t submitted your census form by May, you can expect a census taker to show up at your door. The U.S. President will receive the official counts by the end of this year. By March of 2021, the states will receive the numbers data they will use to redraw their legislative districts, at which time Pennsylvania may find itself short of representation at the federal level. – James Rada Jr. 


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