It took U.S. marshals, often on horseback, about nine months to conduct the nation’s first census and that didn’t include the results from one territory and a few states that had earned extensions.
The initial effort to determine the population of America was undertaken in 1790. Three years later, the official report announced the United States had a population of 3,929,214 — roughly the same as Los Angeles today.
“Carrying out the census in 1790 was difficult in a new country with little infrastructure and a widely scattered population,” reads the U.S. Census Bureau’s website.
This year’s census has the benefit of technological advances — making it easier to disseminate and collect information — but no shortage of challenges with a population about 100 times higher than it was 230 years ago.
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Ellisa Johnson, assistant regional manager for the U.S. Census Bureau, said in a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Eric Lindquist that concerns include an accurate accounting of populations such as the homeless, noncitizens, tribal lands residents, those with language barriers, college students and people who have residences in multiple states.
The federal government relies on the data when it annually distributes more than $675 billion to states and communities that’s used for highways, schools, libraries, emergency services, medical care, community development and other programs, reported Lindquist.
“We want to count every last person we can so Wisconsin is getting our fair share of federal money,” said Catherine Emmanuelle, Eau Claire City Council vice president.
Emmanuelle and Cumberland Clerk-Treasurer Julie Kessler are members of the state’s 2020 Census Complete Count Committee.
“A lot of people just throw the forms away because they think it doesn’t matter, but it does,” Kessler told Lindquist. “We try to get everybody to respond so communities get all the federal funding they have coming.”
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Households were scheduled to begin receiving mail Thursday from the U.S. Census Bureau with information on how to respond online, by phone or by mail. Starting May 13, census takers will be making house calls for those who haven’t submitted a form. The census is slated to be completed by July 31.
A recent U.S. Census Bureau report highlighted more than 130 programs in fiscal year 2015 that were impacted by the census, which is held every 10 years. They covered such issues as school breakfast and lunch programs, unemployment insurance, wildlife restoration, special education, small business development centers, water pollution, transportation and the arts.
Federal funding, however, is not the only thing at stake.
“The results are used to adjust or redraw electoral districts, based on where populations have increased or decreased,” the U.S. Census Bureau reports on its website. “(And the census) will be valuable to businesses, as the results will provide a rich set of data on the communities they serve, including population trends and growth projections.”
A disturbing graphic on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Facebook website says 1 million children of the ages 0 to 4 were not counted in 2010. It would be unfortunate if Wisconsin failed to help lessen that number. Most residents will be asked to complete the short form of the census, which takes on average about 10 minutes to finish.
“Our census affects the monetary resources that our state can get,” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said in a story by Ana Martinez-Ortiz of the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. “Meaning for every person not counted our state loses out on nearly $1,400 per person per year.”
So let’s do our part. The Constitution requires the census, which depends on our participation. Responses are required by law. Even if they weren’t, it’s 10 minutes that can only help communities across western Wisconsin.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor