Taking a head count of the nation’s residents has to be a daunting task to attempt any time. Trying to do it in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, economic upheaval, and social unrest only adds to the challenge.

The U.S. Census Bureau is trying to wrap up this once-every-10-years project this fall despite not only all of the above factors, but amid such other adverse events as Hurricane Laura and a wildfire season on the West Coast like we’ve never seen. While this task mandated by the Constitution has been done decennially since 1790, it has to rank as one of the most challenging counts ever.

If you’ve responded and completed the simple form you received in the mail, good for you. If the task has gotten put off amid a hundred other chores and the form is buried in a pile of other papers, please take a few minutes to complete it. If you haven’t filled out the census form and don’t intend to, please reconsider.

Why should you do it? The reasons are many, but they all boil down to: it’s to your benefit. The information that is gathered will affect you and me and every resident of every state. 

Oh, and it’s also the law.

The data generated will be used in a ton of ways.

It’s used at all levels of government. How the 435 U.S. House of Representatives seats will be apportioned is determined by the census. On the local level, the districts for the Jackson County Board of Supervisors and the ward boundaries for Maquoketa and every other city are set by the census counts.

Funding of all kinds, including grants and allocation of tax revenue, is based on population. As an example, each county’s and city’s allocation of road-use tax funds — its share of gasoline tax revenue that helps build and maintain streets and highways — is based on population.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019, the City of Maquoketa received $1.12 million in road-use tax revenue, based on a population of 6,100 residents, City Manager Gerald Smith told me. He was responding by email to my question asking how the census affects funding for the city. That road-use tax allocation amounts to $184 per person. It’s not too much to say that being counted in the census rather than blowing it off may get another pothole or two in town fixed, perhaps on your street.

“Should the 2020 Census fail to accurately account for all residents within the city, the city’s share of road-use tax will be reduced as well,” Gerald pointed out.

 “The City of Maquoketa is committed to ensuring that every resident is counted during the 2020 census campaign, as there is more than $300 billion per year in federal and state funding that is allocated to communities, and decisions are made on matters of national and local importance based on census data, including health care, community development, housing, education, transportation, social services, employment and much more,” Gerald noted.

Every federal or state dollar the city receives from the federal or state government may be one less dollar that the city will have to raise entirely from local taxpayers.

In addition, the numbers help determine the distribution of hundreds of billions of federal and state funds that help the needy, the elderly, veterans and more. Federal funding builds highways and bridges, aids downtown improvements and helps feed kids in school.

Census data is incorporated into the decision-making process not just by all levels of government, but in all sectors of the economy. Private businesses big and small use the information to make all sorts of decisions, such as where to locate a new plant or office.  Census data is essential to chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations.

It’s also used for research, and not just by government entities and businesses. Who doesn’t have an uncle or cousin who is immersed in genealogy, researching the family tree? Census information can document dates of birth, marriage or death. Your children or grandchildren may tap into census information sometime for a school project.

Like voting, completing the census is one of those civic duties that takes very little time but can make a difference.

Mary completed our form online in about five minutes. It consists of about a dozen questions, including the number of people who were living at your address on April 1, the official census date. It asks for your age, gender, race and ethnicity information, the relationship of other members of the household to you and whether the home is owner-occupied or rented. That’s about it.

To be clear: there are no questions on the form asking about anyone’s citizenship status. There are no questions asking about anyone’s immigration status. Information collected by the census is not shared with law enforcement agencies or any other government agency. People collecting and dealing with census information take a sworn oath to not divulge any information collected on individuals outside of proper Census Bureau channels.

The bureau has been hiring workers, called enumerators, in Jackson County and throughout the country to knock on doors and make personal contacts to make sure that as accurate a head count as possible is achieved. Enumerators also are making follow-up visits to a sample number of homes that previously responded to verify that the information collected is accurate.

If an enumerator knocks on your door, please give him or her the few minutes it takes to finish the job.

If you’re opposed to the census bureau spending the money it costs to send an army of hourly-paid workers into neighborhoods to locate those who don’t respond voluntarily, the best thing you can do for your cause is to reply at once, making yours one less home to be contacted later.

If you haven’t yet responded to the census and you haven’t yet been contacted by an enumerator, why not be pro-active and complete the census today? There are three easy ways:

By computer: go online to 2020census.gov and click on “How to Respond.”

By telephone: call (844) 330-2020.

By mail: If you have lost the self-addressed envelope, mail the form to U.S. Census Bureau, National Processing Center, 1201 E. 10th St., Jeffersonville, Indiana 47132.

Because of some confusion as to when the counting will end, I contacted the Census Bureau’s public information office last Friday. A staff member told me that the matter is in litigation and for people who haven’t done so to simply respond.

In a way, the census is one of our most democratic of exercises. It lets everyone stand up and be counted.

Whatever the results, we’ll have to live with them for the next 10 years. So if you haven’t responded, please do so. It’s quick and easy. And it isn’t too late.

Happy Birthday, Red

I was privileged to serve on a committee that helped plan the celebration of Glen “Red” Henton’s 100th birthday on Sept. 3. It meant spending much of the day with Maquoketa’s famous horseshoe pitching champion, entertainer and story-teller, including driving him in the parade in my wife’s red convertible following presentation of a flag by area veterans organizations.

The turnout for the parade was wonderful, and Red delighted seeing so many friends turn out, wave and greet him. The COVID-19 pandemic meant the celebration had to be modified from the type of event it otherwise would have been, but it turned out wonderfully.

Here’s to many more good times and birthdays to come!

Remembering Bob Reade

My column last week on the late Bob Reade and his legendary football coaching career, which began in Maquoketa, started out to be a paragraph or two attached to the bottom of a previous column.

That was before I learned from friend Jake Bickford that Kurt Kreiter, retired DeWitt Central coach, had played for three years for Augustana under Reade, and before Jack Marlowe shared information and a column he compiled. I would just add this.

Bob Reade didn’t spend a big part of his career in Maquoketa. But certainly the mentoring he received and the experience he gained in the two years he was here (1956-58) were a formative part of the gridiron success that followed. And I like to think that finding Mary Jo, the love of his life and wife for 59 years, in Maquoketa made this early stop along the way of a great career a most special one indeed.