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Dec. 2, 2022

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In Our View: Census tally returns tax money to county

The Columbian
Published:

Clark County residents have done an admirable job of making sure they are counted — thus far. But more work remains as the federal government continues compiling the 2020 U.S. Census.

Washington reportedly has the third-highest response rate in the initial stage of the decennial count, with 69.6 percent of households responding. And within Washington, Clark County has the highest rate, at 74 percent.

Congratulations. Your attentiveness to the census helps ensure that Clark County is accurately represented in the alignment of congressional and legislative districts, and in the apportionment of federal dollars. The census determines how money for schools, roads, health care facilities and other quality-of-life factors is handed out. As the U.S. Census Bureau explains on its website: “Think of your morning commute. Census results influence highway planning and construction, as well as grants for buses, subways, and other public transit systems.”

Or we can look at it this way: If you are paying taxes, you might as well take part in the census to help bring more of that money back to our community.

To bolster those efforts, the Census Bureau is sending workers to knock on doors of households that have not responded online or by mail. Those workers, called enumerators, will have government-issued photo ID badges with a Department of Commerce watermark (to verify the identity of an enumerator, call 1-800-992-3530). Enumerators are required to wear face masks and practice social distancing, and they are prohibited from entering a home.

To avoid potential scammers, know that census workers will never ask about Social Security numbers, citizenship status or financial information.

In addition, federal law prohibits the bureau from sharing identifying information with other agencies, including law enforcement or the IRS. Attempts last year by the Trump administration to include a question about citizenship were scuttled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The census is simply a count of people in the United States — citizens and noncitizens alike. And while there is good reason for the federal government to record the citizenship status of people residing in this country, the census is not the place to do it.

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution reads, in part: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers . . . The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years . . .”

The initial U.S. Census, in 1790, counted 3,929,214 people. The nation has grown a bit since then, and the census has grown in importance.

With that has come unprecedented challenges this year, including a pandemic and a last-minute decision to move up the deadline. The original deadline was July 31, but it was moved back because of disruptions caused by COVID-19. Federal officials recently adjusted the new deadline to Sept. 30, moving it up one month.

That puts pressure on census workers and local residents to make sure the count is fast and accurate. As Margo J. Anderson, professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told USA Today: “Census numbers hang around for a decade and are used for all sorts of government policy.”

All residents should make sure they count.

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