(HorizonPost.com) – Every 10 years, Americans fill out a short census form, providing the government with their personal information. This has been a regular practice ever since the first census in 1790. Why do we bother with such a menial task and why do authority figures make a big deal out of it? Here’s a brief history of the US census and how it affects you.
The quick and easy answer of why we have a census is because it’s enshrined in the Constitution. That doesn’t really explain how or why it got there, although reading Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution does provide some insight in itself.
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers…”
In short, the Founding Fathers intended the population at large to be the basis of political power instead of land or wealth. That means we need to tally up the population. But, what does this mean in practice?
If people are the basis of political power in America, then ensuring an accurate record of the population and their location is critical. Voting districts are shaped, even created or removed, depending on how citizens are distributed across the land.
The fair and equitable drafting of Congressional districts is a much more complicated process than simply tallying up individuals and equally dividing them into geographical regions. The population density disparity between cities and rural areas is just one of the many complications that go into drawing up voting districts. However, the census is the backbone of this process.
Another essential role the census fills can be noticed within the halls of Congress. Each year, the legislative branch of our government determines how much money goes into the federal budget and how it’s distributed. By breaking down census data, lawmakers can more effectively distribute federal funding across the states.
So, by filling out the census, you’re benefiting your community. You’re providing Congress with data it uses to determine the appropriate amount of funding for your area.
That’s not to say that lawmakers hit the mark when it comes to government funding. However, without accurate census data, they wouldn’t even be in the ballpark when it comes to making policy decisions.
The decennial census provides us with some interesting insights.
As far as cities go, New York City has always been the largest. When it comes to states, that changes over time. Originally, Virginia was the largest in 1790, but California has held the record ever since 1970.
The census was also one of the first applications of proto-computers from 1887 and UNIVAC I, the first non-military computer in the US, from 1951.
Civilizations have conducted a regular census, in one form or another, for thousands of years. The US is no different in this respect, though ours primarily serves to empower the people as opposed to mere tax collection purposes. This mundane survey serves to further strengthen our democracy by accurately representing Americans.
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