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Wed., April 7, 2010

Editorial: Filling out census today will keep worker away

If you’re feeling hapless about federal government spending, here is one thing you can do about it: Fill out your census form and drop it in the mail. If you do so by the end of April, the government won’t have to dispatch as many workers to knock on doors to gather the information.

As of Tuesday, Kootenai County (65 percent) and Spokane County (63 percent) are outpacing the national return rate of 60 percent. It costs the government 42 cents in postage for every reply, and if everyone responded that way, the U.S. Census Bureau says the government would save $1.5 billion. Washington state’s response rate in 2000 was 72 percent.

But that isn’t the only good reason to participate.

Congressional apportionment is based on the count, and so is a lot of federal spending. A total of 215 federal assistance programs are based on census figures, with Medicaid being a major one, according to the Brookings Institution. In 2009, those programs delivered $494 million to Spokane County, or $1,068 per person. In addition, 75 percent of federal grants are guided by the census count.

Undercounted regions are shooting themselves in the foot because money they aren’t collecting is going elsewhere.

Falling prey to myths and fears surrounding the every-decade count helps nobody, but that hasn’t stopped some politicians from spreading unfounded claims. Some respondents are merely listing how many people live at a residence and leaving the rest blank. All this will do is trigger a lot more government spending. The government estimates it will need to hire about 630,000 people to conduct follow-up surveys.

The gender question on the form bothers some people, but it has been asked since 1790, the first year the census was taken. The questions about race and ethnicity help the government gauge the effectiveness of voting and civil rights laws. And, no, the census cannot be used, as it was in the 1940s, to round up and intern citizens. Congress has passed laws to prevent that.

However, if you have received official-looking forms that ask for personal data such as bank account information and Social Security numbers, be suspicious. Some unscrupulous people have tried to piggyback on this effort to try to steal private information.

If you haven’t received a census form in the mail by April 12, you can pick one up at many locations, including the STA Plaza in downtown Spokane, South Hill Library, DeLeon Foods (102 E. Francis Ave.), Spokane Valley Library, Spokane Valley Partners (10814 E. Broadway Ave.), Post Falls Senior Center and Coeur d’Alene St. Vincent DePaul.

You can do a lot of good by taking 10 minutes to answer 10 simple questions every 10 years.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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