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Census also about having history right

Sat., April 17, 2010

Friday was the deadline to mail back your 2010 census form.

I’ll bet yours is still sitting on your kitchen counter, isn’t it?

Oh, for crying out loud. People, people, people. You’re really getting on my nerves. You’re also getting on the nerves of the U.S. Census people, but for completely different reasons.

You’ve already heard all of their arguments: “We Can’t Move Forward Until You Mail It Back.” You’ll get fairer representation. Better infrastructure. More services. A brighter tomorrow for everyone. (Yeah, that came right off the census website).

I’m in favor of more “infra” in our structure. I’m totally in favor of a brighter tomorrow.

But frankly, I’m more concerned with a brighter yesterday. So here’s what’s getting on my nerves today: 100 years from now, some researchers, students, genealogists or historians will be scouring the census records for some vital bit of information about you, your block or your city – and they won’t be able to find it because you thought your census form was a piece of junk mail.

I can’t tell you how many times I have relied on old census records to learn something new and vital about our region’s past. I’ve learned about tribal ties, an orphan’s mother and Clint Eastwood’s Spokane connection.

Anybody who does any kind of research relies on the census to tell them, for instance, how many people lived in Ritzville in 1910; or who used to live in their house; or whether they were truly descended from Daniel Boone like grandma always claimed.

I’ve heard all of the excuses:

I don’t want the guvmint rootin’ around in my affairs. Except they won’t ask you about your affairs, or even the one your spouse is having. This year’s census doesn’t even ask you what you do for a living.

They should pay me $5 or something to make it worth my while. Well, isn’t a few billion dollars of federal aid worth your while?

They’ll come to the door and count me in person anyway. That’s true, assuming they can find you. Census takers will now have to visit households that didn’t mail back a form. As if the government doesn’t have anything better to do than chase you down at home.

I will say that I am proud of Spokane County for having a 72 percent census participation rate so far, which exceeds the national rate of 68 percent. But still, that leaves 28 percent of you who are not pulling your weight.

To answer your question: Yes, you can make it all better by cooperating with the census takers when they show up at your door. To answer your second question: Yes, I do think historical accuracy is more important than your convenience.

Meanwhile, I want you to ponder one more issue that’s at stake. Tacoma has been nipping at Spokane’s heels as the No. 2 city in the state. If we lose to Tacoma by one lousy household, it might, just might, be your fault.

Reach Jim Kershner at or (509) 459-5493.


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