The Census: Does it Really Count for Older Adults?
Why Is the Census Important?
Millions of older adults have lived through seven, eight, and even nine censuses, but in this day and scam-around-every-corner age, even mail from Uncle Sam is under extra scrutiny. Confusion about the census process and worry about scams may discourage many older adults from participating in the decennial event. The accuracy of this important snapshot of the American population, and the very future of many aging services, depend on older adults being counted. Professionals in the field of aging are optimally situated to encourage older adults to participate in this exciting and valuable national event by advocating on behalf of Census 2010, explaining the process, and educating seniors about remaining safe from tricks.
In 2006, Andrew Reamer of the Brookings Institution explained in a briefing on Capitol Hill: The Census Bureau is directed to count every single resident of the U.S. These data, as noted, are used for the purposes of apportionment. They have other fundamental uses as well. They are used for the purposes of redrawing Congressional, state, and local legislative districts. They are the basis for the allocation of billions of federal dollars annually. And they determine how trillions of dollars in business investments will be spent.
Financial Implications of the Census
Simply put, the Census decides how we as Americans will spend our money. Major funding and allocation of resources across services from transportation to infrastructure to healthcare all result from census data. This is particularly important to older adults who depend on publicly funded programs such as those through the Older Americans Act. Funding to states and within states can result from decisions influenced by census data. In fact, it’s not radical to say that many of our jobs in the aging field exist because of the Census.
Political Implications of the Census
Even the volume of our voice in Congress is based upon census data. Census population counts can result in redistricting, or the redrawing of electoral maps based upon population. Redistricting can mean success or failure for each side of the political aisle in highly polarized swing states. Census data can also result in congressional reapportionment, or changes in the number of Representatives each state has in the House of Representatives. For example, Illinois lost a congressional seat after Census 2000 due to more rapid growth measured in other states.
Social Service Implications of the Census
Census data also influences program development and expansion of services provided to older adults. Many organizations turn to the Census as a convenient tool to inform an assessment of community needs. Inaccurate Census numbers can negatively influence program development and the very way we provide services to our clients. The bottom line: the more seniors completing the Census, the better off our aging services, both financially and programmatically.
Avoid Census Scams
But what about scams? Horror stories from friends and clips on the nightly news paint older adults as easy targets, and unfortunately, Census 2010 serves opportunity to scammers on a silver platter. While seniors shouldn?t let the fear of scams keep them from participating in the Census, they should exercise extra caution during this nationwide count. Older adults can start by remembering three key facts:
- The Census Bureau will never try to sell you anything
- The Census Bureau will never ask you for money
- The Census Bureau will never contact you by email
The Bureau may send a Census taker to your home if you do not return your form. Older adults, and anyone receiving a visit, do not need to let these people into their homes. The Census Bureau also reminds us that all official Census takers will have an official Census badge, and they will never ask for your social security number. When in doubt, call the U.S. Census Bureau at 1-866-872-6868 or contact your regional Census office.
What Seniors Can Do
The Census has never been shorter or easier to complete, but this doesn’t eliminate the confusion and fear older adults might feel about the tally. It is our job as professionals in the field of aging to advocate on behalf of the Census and make this process as painless as possible for our clients.
Don’t worry. We have help. Your regional Census office is a great place to start with questions. Census takers can also ease confusion, especially for older adults residing in a group setting like a skilled nursing facility. Also, older adults with visual impairments and language barriers can benefit from assistance through the Census Bureau. Countless tools are available to aid in counting everyone, and we need to use them because the importance of this decennial event cannot be overstated.
Uncle Sam needs you, your friends and colleagues, to ensure all older adults get counted on April 1, 2010.
**This article was edited by Danielle Dodson.
Photo courtesy of: quinn.anya on flickr.com