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Help out the city, state, and nation — fill out the census form

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 24, 2010 7:30 AM

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America saw a great deal of change during the past decade. Cities boomed, financial markets burst, and a new generation of citizens faced a gritty world. Now, it’s time for the massive information-gathering decennial; it’s time for the census.

For most college students, 2010 marks the first time they will directly participate in the census. And it will be vital one for both University of Iowa enrollees and their collegiate compatriots around the country. The census represents a chance for the youth of America to shape political representation, properly allocate governmental funding, and even affect student-loan programs. Furthermore, 2010 census data will be used to allot more than $400 billion per year to local, state, and tribal governments.

We urge UI students to take a few minutes to fill out this decisive document, if they haven’t done so already. Citizens must fill out the physical form and mail it in; they cannot fill one out online.

“What [students] do right now is actually going to have an impact for the next 10 years,” Dennis Johnson, U.S. Census Bureau regional director in Kansas City, told the Editorial Board. The Kansas City region is responsible for data collection and dissemination in Iowa.

College students typically represent an undercounted population in prior censuses, a trend U.S. Census Bureau officials said is caused by confusion over residency and an untimely conflict between when the census form is mailed and spring-break scheduling. But with hundreds of billions of dollars on the line for the years to come, there’s no excuse for tossing the 10-question form out like a piece of junk mail. The bottom line is, UI students cannot simply ignore the census or rely on their parents to take responsibility for filling it out.

“Surely [students] can spare 10 minutes,” Beth Henning, the Iowa liaison for the 2010 Census, told the Editorial Board. “It’s only once every 10 years.”

In 2000, Iowa ranked first in the nation for census-response rate with 76 percent of its citizens completing and submitting the necessary questionnaire. At the time, the state population slightly exceeded 2.9 million, and a 2006 estimate put that number just under 3 million. Unfortunately, current estimates predict serious political ramifications for Iowa after this year’s census.

“The state of Iowa could very possibly and would most likely lose a position in Congress because its population has not grown,” Johnson said. Henning also she said she’s pretty certain Iowa will lose a seat because other states are growing faster.

But realistically, the thought of Iowa’s representative delegation getting cut down to four isn’t enough motivation to send UI students scrambling for the nearest pen. It seems the best method to promote strong response rates among college students is to raise awareness of how rudimentary and painless filling out the census really is.

“People will see how simple it is and how nonintrusive it is,” Rich Gerdes, assistant regional manager for the Kansas City bureau, told the Editorial Board. “You probably put more information down when you apply for a gym membership.”

So come April 1, officially declared National Census Day, take a seat, fill out a census, and participate in the civic duty of guiding this country’s next 10 years. It won’t be hard, but it sure will matter.


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