James Rada, Jr.

Most people in the country will receive a card in the mail by the middle of March, inviting them to participate in the 24th decennial census. Many people consider the decennial census merely a count of all the people in the United States—which is what the U.S. Constitution calls for as a minimum—but for each of the 23 U.S. Censuses taken, additional information has also been collected.

“The demographic information is very important. It gives us an idea of what type of life is going on in Thurmont,” said Jim Humerick, Thurmont’s chief administrative officer.

The U.S. Constitution requires the census to be taken every 10 years, and, by law, you must participate. The nine questions take just minutes to answer. The census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790, but this is the first time that census has offered an online response option.

It is not information collected simply to collect data on U.S. residents. The information is used for a variety of purposes, as governments determine legislative boundaries and school districts and decide where needs are for spending money from various programs. Non-profit organizations often use census data to support their needs when writing grants. Corporations use the data to determine where to locate new businesses. The federal government uses census data to determine where approximately $675 billion in federal program spending will go.

Locally, census information is used for planning and zoning and economic development decisions.

“The main thing I use it for is grants,” Humerick said. This is because grants often want demographic information about the community seeking the grant. The source for much of this information comes from the U.S. Census. It has been estimated that Frederick County and local municipalities lose $2,000 a year for each person not counted in the census.

“It’s extremely important that we get some of that massive amount of money that depends on census data back here,” said Emmitsburg Planner Zach Gulden.

The Town of Emmitsburg received an $8,500 grant that it will be using to make people aware of the census and encourage them to fill it out.

The Town of Thurmont will receive materials from the Census Bureau that it intends to send out with the water bills.    

Just as the law requires all U.S. residents, whether citizens or not, to participate in the census, the law also protects the information collected. According to the U.S. Census Bureau website, “Your answers can only be used to produce statistics—they cannot be used against you in any way. By law, all responses to U.S. Census Bureau household and business surveys are kept completely confidential.” This means that no government agency or court can use your information. It won’t be used by the sheriff’s department to locate a felon or ICE to find illegal immigrants. Income you list won’t be used in a divorce case, or your name won’t be used to track down a deadbeat parent.

The online census form goes live on March 12, but the official Census Day is April 1. If you haven’t submitted your census form by May, you can expect a census taker to show up at your door. The president will receive the official counts by the end of this year. By March of 2021, the states will receive the numbers that they will use to redraw their legislative districts.

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