A Good Census Count Has Profound Effects

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Despite concerns that the upcoming census means unnecessary government intrusion, the once-every-decade count is imperative for representative democracy, local resident and census worker Jeff Wiles told those gathered at a Citizens Awareness Committee meeting Thursday.

Although Wiles works for the census, he said he spoke at the CAC meeting as a private citizen.

“I know there are a lot of people who are upset with the government, and I am one of them,” Wiles said. He encapsulated the Census’ mission as, “I’m here and I demand representation.”

Census workers are canvassing homes with GPS handheld computers to calibrate the new digital system with updated addresses and coordinates of lived-in properties.

April 1, 2010 marks official Census Day, when Americans will fill out 10-question sheets. Part-time residents should fill out sheets in the place where they spend the most time, according to the census.

The count’s portrait of changing population can profoundly affect a citizen’s representation.

For instance, the redistricting that followed the 2000 census created the fifth legislative district, where much of Gila County lies.

The political line-moving in 2001 2001 also switched Star Valley from county supervisor District 1, which Supervisor Tommie Martin represents, to District 3, which is Supervisor Shirley Dawson’s area.

Another patch of Payson near the Mazatzal Casino switched from District 1 to District 2, which Supervisor Mike Pastor now represents, Elections Director Dixie Mundy said Monday.

“It is so important that our citizens, our residents do fill out the form,” Mundy said. “It is important that we get all of our population counted.”

Wiles said at the CAC meeting that the government doesn’t want to know where an individual person lives — just that they exist.

If the census numbers warrant a redistricting, the board of supervisors can appoint a committee to redraw the lines of representation, as it did in 2001. The next redistricting would occur in 2011.

At the legislative level, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is charged with the duty.

The numbers and resulting demographics also help the federal government decide how to disperse $300 billion in federal funds annually, according to the Census Bureau.

Income level statistics help determine which services an area needs, Wiles said. Likewise, an area with abundant senior citizens would receive different assistance than a place inhabited by younger families.

However, if a resident votes, pays taxes or gets mail, then the government already knows where he lives.

He added, “Whether you think the federal government should be doing it or not, that goes to representation.”

The Founding Fathers included the decennial census in the U.S. Constitution. U.S. Marshals on horseback conducted the first in 1790, and they counted 3.9 million people. That number swelled to 281 million by 2000, according to the census.

In 2000, Gila County’s population was 51,000. By 2008, a Census estimate included 52,000 people.

Payson’s 2000 population of 13,600 people increased to an estimated 15,000 by 2007.

Some attendees at the CAC meeting wondered if the county seat would switch to Payson at some point if Payson’s population continued to increase while Globe’s declined.

Globe’s 2000 population of 7,400 dropped to an estimated 7,000 in 2007. According to the Arizona Revised Statutes, however, a county seat can only change if a specified number of voters petition for the electorate to vote on the issue.

Personal information collected stays confidential for 72 years. The historical data, once released, helps genealogists and other researchers gather information, Wiles said.

“You can watch a nation change,” he added.

Previously, selected households were sent a voluminous load of detailed questions.

However, the Census will now send out the the detailed socioeconomic questions to a rotating bunch of households annually, although the department says no household will receive the elongated survey more than once every five years.

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