By Ian Graham
This has been a very civic week for me. Yesterday I did my first tour of duty as a juror in the District of Columbia. Tuesday, I filled out my first census. I think Mr. Fuller, my U.S. Government teacher from high school, would have a tear in his eye (if he weren’t also my wrestling coach and tough as nails).
The U.S. Census, a tally of all of the United States residents (citizens and non-citizens), takes place every 10 years. As a result, the millions of people who turn 18 and/or move into their own homes each decade get a piece of mail that can be a little confusing at first glance.
For those who joined the services, there’s an added element of confusion – will I get counted in the barracks? If I’m deployed or stationed overseas, do I count in the census? What if I’m one of the thousands of foreign nationals who either serve in uniform or work here?
Mary Dixon, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center, met with the Pentagon Channel and other reporters (myself included) to talk about what the census means for the military. Luckily for servicemembers, who already have plenty on their minds, the daunting process is, actually, pretty easy.
Here’s the long and short of what she said:
- If you live in a house of your own within the U.S., on or off post, fill out and return the census form as soon as you can.
- If you live on post in the U.S. and live in group housing (barracks, for example), your unit will help provide you a Military Census Report, a slightly different form to help tally servicemembers.
- If you’re stationed overseas, your census data will be provided from administrative databases by the Department of Defense. You won’t need to fill out a form.
- Servicemembers at sea have slightly different rules, depending on where your ship’s home port is. If the home port is abroad, your information will be given to the Census Bureau by the Defense Department. If your home port is stateside, you’ll be given the normal census form or Military Census Report.
For those who are concerned about giving out their personal information, worry not. Really, the census only asks for your name, age, gender, race, and residency information. Your address is already on file with the federal government and in most cases is already publicly available.
Dixon said the Census Bureau works hard to ensure its data is airtight: census takers are investigated by the FBI before being hired, and any person releasing pertinent personal data unofficially is subject to a $250,000 fine and jail time.
And to answer questions about the validity or purpose of the census – especially in light of current discussions in various media outlets – the census is designed to find out how many people are living in our country, and where they’re living. This helps determine how many representatives each state gets in the House of Representatives and how the federal government apportions nearly $400 billion in aid given to states. The data gathered in the census also helps states determine how to allocate their budget as well.
For servicemembers, it’s important because states can’t allocate money to cities near your post if they don’t know how many troops are living in the area.
So when you get that census form in the mail, fill it out and send it back in. Not only is it required by federal law, but it will it help the government better serve you. It might even get you another vote in Congress.