The United States Census Count is fast approaching, and it’s a really big deal for our little island. Most people can tell you what the census is — it’s when we count the number of people in every community across the country — but it happens only once every 10 years, so it’s not something we think about very often. Now’s the time to think about it.

Census data determines how billions of federal dollars are divvied up for expenditure across the United States, and an undercount on our island means we get a smaller part of the pie here in our community.

Census data helps our government leaders plan at the local, state and federal level: how many police, firefighters, ambulances, buses, schools, hospitals and libraries. A lower count keeps communities from receiving funding for these and many more vital community services.

In Galveston, our census count also controls the federal funding for critical infrastructure needs, programs that support home rehabilitation and homeownership opportunities, rent assistance through Housing Choice Vouchers, funds to keep the city’s transit system running, and free and reduced-cost lunches for hungry children.

All very important stuff. And we get a chance to influence it all once every 10 years with the census count. Such a simple act. A citizen choosing to respond to the census. But it’s also incredibly complicated.

Counting every Galvestonian isn’t an easy task. Some people just don’t ever hear about the census. Some people hear about it but don’t think it’s important to be counted: “I’m just one person. Why do I matter?” Some might choose to avoid the census altogether out of fear or mistrust of how the census data might be used: “Is it safe?” It’s very safe, by the way. Census data is kept confidential for 75 years by law and cannot be used by any other governmental entity or business.

We know that in the 2010 census, Galveston failed to hit the 50,000 resident threshold. In 2010, we also know there were many areas of the island that had really low response rates, some below 70 percent. It’s heartbreaking to think of the impact we weren’t able to have for the people who live in those very neighborhoods because of all the money we lost from the undercount.

With so much on the line for our thriving island, we have to make sure we count every single Galvestonian this time.

This is where you come in. When called upon to respond to the census (self-response begins in March), treat your response as a solemn duty to yourself and to your community. Help your neighbors and friends respond to the census. Tell your co-workers how important the census is to our community. Talk about the importance of the census at school, in the grocery store, with your hairstylist.

Let’s work together to push our little island up and over and well past that 50,000 mark that eluded us in 2010. Let’s keep more of our tax dollars in our very own community to feed and shelter and move and save and treat and educate the good people of Galveston.

Joan Oelze is a volunteer on the city council appointed Galveston Complete Count committee and lives in Galveston.


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(6) comments

Wayne D Holt

The importance of being counted is undeniable. Representation is a direct result of the number of natural persons residing in defined jurisdictions. If you're not counted, you don't count.

The problem with the US Census Bureau's American Community Survey is it has metastasized over the years into a very intrusive questionnaire that goes far beyond what the framers of our system of government had in mind for Americans.

If you ask what is the relevance for representation in the amount of time it takes to commute to my place of employment, of course the answer is none. Neither is the number of bedrooms I have, if I live in a mobile home, if the household is same-sex partnered, if I have internet service and so on. And that, in a nutshell, is the issue.

Data hungry statisticians and stateists observed the leverage the Census would have in unlocking all sorts of interesting--to them--relationships and inferences they wanted to know more about. The thing is, I may not want to share that with them.

I can see a real problem with undercounting the population for representation. I don't see any problem with refusing to furnish the government information on my flush toilet. They may want it, but the government wants a lot of unwholesome things these days and I am less inclined than ever to reward its consistently atrocious behavior.

For those who say, "Yes, but how will they know what sewer infrastructure to plan for?", I suggest using the head count. Knowing only how many of us there are in one community at any given time would yield a wealth of insights, if one wished to use analytical logic and justifiable inferences.

Of course, it's more fun to peep through keyholes.

Bailey Jones

“Data! data! data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay.” - Sherlock Holmes

You might be lucky enough to get the long form census where you can report your toilets, but most people will get the standard form - which is nothing other than the usual enumeration The form is here -

The census is an important opportunity to gather statistics about Americans. Even 100 years ago they recorded occupations, rent or mortgage, agricultural conditions (how much milk produced, how many chickens,etc., crops, irrigation and drainage, etc.), education, literacy, origin, languages spoken, etc. These census forms are invaluable to modern historians and genealogists. As will the 2020 census be to future historians.

Data is important. Ignorance may be bliss. But it's ignorant bliss.

Wayne D Holt

And that is why I made the distinction it was long form data gathering under the American Community Survey. Most get the short form you mention, likely because the long form was being ignored so often. The long form samples random slices of Americans every year, not just once per decade, with the promise you won't be resampled more than once every five years, I recall.

"These census forms are invaluable to modern historians and genealogists. As will the 2020 census be to future historians." Bailey, you've made a wonderful argument for historians and genealogists; that doesn't address individual privacy concerns or data security at all.

We could cut crime by two/thirds if we surveilled the population 24/7 when they walked out their front door. Same reasoning applies to supplying the government with any data they seem to think is important. What's the rationale for denying them if they begin to ask for political affiliation, charitable preferences, news source choices? You get the picture.

Governments the world over have shown themselves over the last 250 years to be the single greatest source of mass killings, corruption and wholesale denial of human rights. Governments are currently hard at work making ever more lethal ways to kill. They make the Mob look like Sunday school teachers. Governments as currently constituted are a corrupt anachronism, the way the Church in the medieval ages became a cesspool of corruption.

"Data is important. Ignorance may be bliss. But it's ignorant bliss." I would much rather be ignorant and free than well informed and in slavery.

Bailey Jones

The constitution requires counting everyone - that's what the short form does. Other data is collected statistically on the various longer, and specific, surveys and only need a small (relatively) sample. You should know I don't buy slippery slope arguments We have organizations of all political persuasions, devoted to protecting our civil liberties, that will intercede in the event that the government gets too nosy - so I don't worry about "what ifs".

Jose' Boix

Beware of the vicious circle. Data are individual pieces of factual information recorded and used for the purpose of analysis. It is the raw information from which statistics are created. Leading to the old adage: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Just my thoughts.

Wayne D Holt

"You should know I don't buy slippery slope arguments We have organizations of all political persuasions, devoted to protecting our civil liberties, that will intercede in the event that the government gets too nosy - so I don't worry about "what ifs".

You're joking, right? Please tell me you are. You've got to be kidding. The NSA and CIA are crawling all over every data point they can scrape from every licit and illicit resource out there, the FAA is going to retinal scans to travel, the police in American cities are taking DNA samples from suspects not the convicted, the Supreme Court has said the "border" extends 100 miles inland from the nationally recognized boundary and your 4th amendment rights can be abridged there, the 1963 Kennedy assassination files have not all been released based on national security...and on and on and on.

I would never have pegged you for the credulous type but if you think slippery slopes are just "what ifs" for this government, you must not be as well informed as I had thought, with all due respect.

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