It may have more applications than duct tape.
The efforts involved with the United States Census are on a meteor's schedule, appearing in large part every 10 years evolving from the first census in 1790. The information gathered is used by a vast array of individuals from governmental agencies to schoolchildren.
Decisions on public transportation, distribution of $200 billion in federal funds, the number of state seats in the House of Representatives, school district boundaries, forecasting housing needs, land use planning and planning for business and communities are all part of the census' uses.
Where people live and what time they leave for work is just one set of questions for the 2000 Census, whose estimated cost is $6.5 billion. Rush hour and data on the nation's sprawling residential life is just one way to measure construction needs for highways, roads and bridges.
"The census is as important to our nation as highways and telephone lines," the Census Bureau reports. "Federal dollars supporting schools, employment services, housing assistance, highway construction, hospital services, programs for the elderly and more are distributed based on census figures."
Millions of census questionnaires will be processed across the nation, reaching the likes of those on Bill Gates' Christmas card list to individuals surviving on welfare. In the end what is hoped to be grasped is an ever changing pulse point in the life of the United States.
Census critics have pointed to an under counting in rural areas, specifically on American Indian Reservations. The bureau said this year more effort is being made to reach those areas and encourage participation. Liaisons were created with tribal governments and active recruiting of census takers has taken place on reservations.
Entire information booklets appeal to American Indians on reservations and off to participate with the census in order to help communities identify needs from housing to medical services. According to the 1990 census, 31 percent of American Indians and Alaska natives live below the poverty level. There are nearly two million American Indians and Alaska natives in the United States.
A key line repeated by the bureau is -- "this is your future. Don't leave it blank." For each person not counted the Census Bureau reports communities lose $250 per year in federal dollars.
Census questions are required by law to manage or evaluate federal programs or meet federal case law requirements. Federal and state funds used to support schools, employment services, housing assistance, road construction, hospital services and programs for the elderly are distributed on census figures.
On nearly every page of census information the bureau is quick to point out answers to questions are not shared with welfare agencies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, courts, police or the military. Violations of privacy law is punishable by up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
Another byproduct of the census is employment of census takers and support staff -- more than 285,000 people nationwide. Wages for census takers varies across the nation, depending on individual markets from $8.25 per hour to about $18 per hour. For information about jobs, call 888-325-7733.
In January and February workers will be selected and trained. Between March and May questionnaires will be delivered and household interviews conducted. Census takers will visit homes between May and July and the results will be tabulated beginning in August with a completion date to deliver results to the president by December.
Census takers are expected to knock on 46 million doors in America. One concern is a declining participation from households that receive census questionnaires. Kenneth Prewitt, U.S. Census Bureau director, said Thursday the agency hopes to gain at least 61 percent on census returns from Americans. Participation has dropped since 1980. Prewitt said declining participation means a larger burden on the taxpayer as more workers will be needed to knock on more doors instead of gaining information by return mail.
Among the nation, Wisconsin and Minnesota historically lead participation levels.
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