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A Times Editorial

Be a good citizen and complete the census

This week, most American households will begin receiving in the mail the form for the 2010 U.S. Census. The census seeks to count every person living in the United States and to collect basic demographic information about them. The Census Bureau asks that every household complete the form and mail it back by April 1.

Why fill out the form? First, because federal law requires that citizens participate in the census, which is conducted every 10 years.

Second, because it is important. The census is used to determine how many seats states will get in the U.S. House of Representatives, to redraw state legislative district lines, and to determine how $400 billion in federal tax money will be distributed. It allows local, state and federal officials to observe demographic trends and plan services accordingly.

Third, because it's easy. The census form has only 10 questions, primarily seeking the name, age, gender and ethnicity of those in the household.

Finally, you should fill out the form because the alternative is expensive and more time-consuming for you and the government. Fail to return the form by the third week of April, or send it back only partly completed, and the Census Bureau must send a census taker to your home to get the answers. The millions of tax dollars spent doing that could be saved if everyone just returned the form.

Tampa Bay area law enforcement officers warn residents to beware of scam artists and identity thieves taking advantage of the census. The census is done by mail and personal interviews, so don't fill out anything online. The census does not ask for financial information or credit card numbers. Legitimate census takers who ring your doorbell will provide identification and they are forbidden to enter your home.

In this time of suspicion, even paranoia, about government, it is perhaps inevitable that some individuals have claimed that the 2010 census is a shadowy effort by "big brother" to obtain and use Americans' personal information in some nefarious way. It is a baseless claim. The nation's founders inserted a mandate for the census in Article 1 of the Constitution. The census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. This year's census form is one of the shortest ever, and the personal information is protected by confidentiality laws.

All Americans benefit from an accurate count. Be a good citizen. Fill out the form.

Be a good citizen and complete the census 03/14/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 15, 2010 3:20pm]
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