2010 Census: what you need to know
The 2010 US Census starts soon. At stake are billions of federal dollars – and maybe your representative's job.
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The undercounting of residents is of particular concern to many states and cities. After the 2000 Census, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a report to Congress, estimated that because of undercounting, 31 states and the District of Columbia lost $4.1 billion for eight federal programs between fiscal years 2002 and 2012.Skip to next paragraph
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Will the census count noncitizens?
Yes, US law requires a count of all “persons” and “inhabitants” – without specifying whether they are citizens or noncitizens, legal or illegal.
The First Congress was aware that many foreign-born people were living in the country, says Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “They intentionally did not use the term ‘citizen,’ ” she says of the 1790 law establishing the census.
Last October, four US senators attempted to put a question about citizenship on the 2010 census form. They were unsuccessful.
Am I required to fill out the form?
Yes, every resident is required by law to fill out the form – a fact that is noted on the mailing envelope. Yet some people have publicly stated that they don’t intend to do so. Only in rare cases, however, has the government prosecuted people for not complying with the law.
Who gets to look at the information I give?
By law, the Census Bureau cannot give the data to any government agency. For example, in the 1950s, the White House was being redecorated and President Truman and his wife needed to be relocated. The Secret Service wanted to know more about the people living near the first couple’s temporary residence, but the Census Bureau would not supply the requested information. In other instances, the US Supreme Court has upheld the secrecy of the data.
All census takers are checked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And they take an oath to never reveal personally identifiable information. The penalty for violating the oath is five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
After the forms are processed, they go into a locked vault for 72 years. In 2012, the results of the 1940 survey will be open to the public.
Will a census taker come to my home?
Only if you have not mailed back the form.
Why can’t I answer the census questions online?
The Census Bureau considered this option but decided it didn’t save any money. Also, the bureau could not vouch for the security of the responses. Still, the bureau is trying to develop a secure online form for 2020.
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