Fresh Ideas: Once upon a decade, the census comes to Carson |

Fresh Ideas: Once upon a decade, the census comes to Carson

Abby Johnson
For the Nevada Appeal

Thursday is the Census Day, the official day of the population count, on April Fool’s Day. Is it mere coincidence?

This week I received a third mailing from the Census Bureau, or is it fourth? First was the “it’s coming soon” letter, then the “when you get it, fill it out and return it” postcard, then the survey itself, and now, a postcard announcing the availability of census jobs.

The census count serves as the basis for allocating federal funds for a plethora of programs to serve people in need, and for transportation and infrastructure projects and facilities. New population numbers are also the basis for reapportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and redistricting in the Legislature and at the local level. Will Nevada get another seat in Congress?

The census only surfaces every 10 years. It’s like being born on Feb. 29 in a leap year. Practice makes perfect, but the census doesn’t get to practice. In the intervening decade, everything changes. Keeping up with technology and retaining staff must be difficult for an organization which contacts its clients only once a decade.

The real proof of census discombobulation is – are you sitting down? – Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress are co-sponsoring a bill to improve the 2020 count. According to the New York Times, during the Bush administration there was a lack of support for the census, and both the director and deputy director resigned in 2006. Goodbye continuity. Predictably, equipment failures created last-minute delays and cost overruns. The 2020 bill would provide continuity, and empower the director with needed independence to speak directly to Congress.

It is a challenge for the government to count us all, especially Nevadans. Nevadans have a love-hate relationship with the feds. Nevada has embraced federal programs and their economic benefits, such as Navy and Air Force bases. Nevada also has rejected federal initiatives, such as Yucca Mountain, and fostered the Sagebrush Rebellion. For some, the census represents Big Government intruding on the individual right to privacy.

The census estimates that

47 million households won’t mail back the form. Those people should expect a visit from a census worker who will make up to six attempts to obtain data from households that didn’t send in the form. A fed at the door or a form in the mail? That’s a no-brainer.

• Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues.