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Jewish World Review
March 23, 2010/ 8 Nissan 5770
I'm a busy person. Why do I have to fill out this U.S. Census form anyhow?
The U.S. Constitution says that every 10 years, the federal government must count every resident in the United States. It sounds simple, but what it really comes down to is politics and money.
How does it involve politics?
There are 435 seats in the U.S. House. The government uses the population count to determine the number of seats your state will have. In 2002, after the 2000 census results were tallied, 12 seats moved across 18 states. For the most part, Sun Belt states gained seats and Rust Belt states lost them.
So what's the big deal?
When a state gains or loses seats, the political party in power redraws congressional districts with hopes of making it impossible for the other party to win. The census results are very important to politicians.
What does the census have to do with money?
It determines the "amount of government money your neighborhood will receive." That statement is printed right on the census form. The idea is that the more people the census determines to be living in a region, the greater percentage of federal dough that region will receive. If you want to get your fair share of government dough, you better fill out the form.
Let me get this straight. I work hard and pay taxes to the federal government. The government skims off its share, then sends what is left back to me based on the number of people who live in my neighborhood?
Now you're getting it. The government sends your neighborhood money to fix roads, build bridges and fund all kinds of government programs -- so that your House member can take credit and win your vote in the next election.
That doesn't sound like a very efficient way to use my money.
It is much worse than that. Our government is spending hundreds of billions more than it is taking in. It is borrowing that money from the Chinese, among others. Your children and grandchildren will spend the rest of their lives paying interest on that debt. If you don't complete your census form, some other neighborhood will receive your children's and grandchildren's hard-earned money -- that would be immoral!
OK, I'll complete the form. What is on it?
There are 10 questions. You are asked to state your name, sex, age, race, telephone number and whether you own or rent your home. There are no questions about your religion, whether you are a legal U.S. resident or if you have a Social Security number.
What if I have an issue with my privacy being violated and choose not to fill out the form?
If you don't complete and mail the form by April 1, census workers will come to your home. If you don't cooperate with the census workers when they arrive, criminal charges may be filed. You may be fined up to $100.
So, essentially, the reason I need to complete the form by April 1 is to ensure that my state counts as many people as possible, so that my representative will be able take credit for as much government spending as possible, and so that my neighborhood receives its fair share of my children's and grandchildren's hard-earned money?
That is right. But you can also save the government money. If every American mails back his or her census form, it will reduce the cost of the census by $1.5 billion -- freeing up money the government doesn't have, so it can be spent on some other government project that likely is not needed.
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© 2010, Tom Purcell
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