Let Us Census!

February 15

To most, receiving their 2010 Census packet in the mail is probably as exciting as picking out socks in the morning. But for me (and likely anyone else who is heavily involved in market research), it is cause to celebrate. Because while many probably view the survey as a mandatory yet thankless task involving boring questions about their livelihood, I feel it represents the promise of fresh, exciting information about our country and the people that inhabit it, from sea to shining sea. The Census information will weave into all of our daily lives, affecting decisions at the most macro and micro levels. From corporate giants to urban planners to local governments; from social programs to economic plans to targeted marketing; decisions that would bring change to this country will likely be influenced by these findings to no small degree.

After all, to say that the U.S. Census is a research juggernaut unlike anything else out there is putting it lightly. The preparation, the distribution, the size of the target audience, the collection efforts, the tabulation, the analysis — every component of the 2010 Census is incredibly massive in scope. As a research professional, I find it to be a thing of great beauty and incomparable awe.

Of course, I should freely admit that my frequent reliance on Census data has much to do with this unfaltering admiration. Not to mention the fact that the 2000 Census data is starting to get incredibly stale, especially when you consider how much has changed in this country over the past 10 years. To put it in perspective, the term "Information Technology" was not even recognized in the last Census. Not that it stopped me from digging as much as I could in efforts to assist clients in identifying the perfect spot for a new location, or finding the highest concentrations of hard-to-fill positions. After all, there is a reason the research is funded by tax dollars, commissioned by the federal government and feasible only every ten years: nothing else even comes close. It is enough to fill this research professional with a crazy-strong sense of civic pride.

Researchers need not be alone in this tear-inducing sentiment. In more ways than you can imagine, the Census Bureau and all of the wonderful research that pours out from it works for you. It is yours to take advantage of, yours to apply; however you see fit. The Census Bureau understands this and works tirelessly to make the most of the data it receives. It has even given the American population a break by doing away with the dreaded "long form" and making the 2010 Census a short form-only endeavor (although the long form has not exactly gone away, rather it has been replaced by a more continuous national survey known as the American Community Survey (ACS), the results of which will be linked to Census data for projection models and statistics).

Which brings me to my (admittedly late) point: Research is only as strong as its weakest link, and in any survey-based research, that weakest link is usually tied to the response and completion rates, or the percent of individuals expected to complete the survey that actually take the time to do so fully. Obviously, in such cases non-responses (those who do not participate at all) do not help the cause whatsoever, and partial completes only help, well, partially.

So, for all of the resources set aside for this tremendous undertaking, all of the data entry personnel and analysts eagerly anticipating the rolling in of completes to begin processing, the Congress-approved questionnaire, the tireless distribution and reminder efforts, it all boils down to one ultimately critical factor: your participation. It really is the responsibility of each and every American citizen to complete and return their respective Census forms, because without their support, the Census would be useless. The numbers would not be representative, which would leave all related decision-making to be done in the dark. And believe me when I say that Census data influences a lot of decision making in a very big way.

So, the next time you notice that unopened Census envelope still sitting on the counter, sticking out of a pile of unopened mail, realize that it is more than just another survey. It is something that not only differentiates us from every other country out there, but also defines us. It reveals us to be an incredibly diverse population in terms of demographics and lifestyles, and it helps those that want to help others better understand those people and the road that lies ahead.

This is why for me the call to participate in the 2010 Census is more than just a responsibility. For me it is both a privilege and an honor, and if sharing my thoughts on this can help persuade others to complete and submit their forms, then I am proud to have helped the cause.

Now allow me to whistle the Star Spangled Banner as I eagerly await the chance to crunch some mighty 2010 Census numbers!

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