To the editor:
I read the article in the Great Bend Tribune: “Census questionnaires coming in March” (Feb. 16 issue, posted online Feb. 14). The United States Constitution mandates that every person residing in the United States (men/women/children) shall be counted in a national census every 10 years. While the Tribune mainly focused on a headcount being important for federal dollars for proportional programs for federal money being “really about the dollars,” I would slightly disagree.
Granted, federal programs cater to demographics, such as programs for “the aged” or programs for enhancements to schools as well as nearby roads and highways that have a demonstrated “need” by increases in population (or decreases could mean the inverse: a lesser priority). However, when this nation was established the census wasn’t established solely to maintain a welfare state. Census information kept a thumb on the pulse of America’s prosperity as well as having readily available categorical information such as knowing numbers of able-bodied males (then) who were all considered members of the national militia to safeguard this nation’s security.
“Vital Statistics” isn’t just a money catchphrase, it is an important measure of “who we are” and “where we are.” Past census data can be helpful in knowing family history or genealogy. For example, I can look at the 1930 or 1940 U.S. Census and see exactly where my parents or grandparents lived. However, I have seen a few past census entries that were inaccurate or obsolete, so it’s not foolproof.
In our mobile society, this information can be inadvertently deceiving. For example, the late President George H.W. Bush, when asked by different reporters, would alternate stating that his “home” was Kennebunkport, Maine, yet at other times, he would claim Houston, Texas, as the place where he hung his hat. Years ago, my mom’s deceased cousin, George Riedl would venture south to winter in New Port Richey, Fla. He said many people from Kansas, Indiana and other states would migrate there each year. He is the first person I knew of who referred to himself and others like him, as “snowbirds.”
George Riedl and his wife are now long deceased. However, their reporting their existence mattered. In the 1920 U.S. Census, George was 3 years old (born 1917) and his father (George senior) was a vaudeville comedian and accordion player. Back then there was no Social Security; there were “poor farms.”
Although we currently have no military “draft,” having some demographic data can be helpful in the event of potential war. It also helps employers have a rough idea of how many potential customers (or potential employee work-force) could be found in any given area. I consider filling out the census as not only a civic duty, but also helpful in allocation of Congressional representation, public safety, and lastly as a mile marker of our “national life.” Get yourself counted this year!
James A. Marples .