The U.S. Census, that Constitutionally mandated count of our population every 10 years, is a big deal.

It’s the basis for distribution of political power

Census data is used to determine the number of seats each state holds in Congress and how federal funds are distributed back to states and local communities each year for such things as health care, jobs, schools, roads and businesses, according to a media release by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Closer to home, it determines the weighted votes in county legislatures.

That’s why it’s worrisome that the U.S. Census Bureau flagged two census tracts within the city of Oneonta as among the hardest to count in the nation.

As we reported this week, federal data say 69.3 percent of households in Tract 5911, which includes the Sixth Ward and parts of the Fifth and Eighth wards, mailed back their 2010 census questionnaires, and only 53.3 percent of households in Tract 5913, which encompasses SUNY Oneonta, returned theirs.

Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig is aware of the problem. He cited areas of concern in census counts as college students, who tend not to stay in one place for a long time and may move from place to place; and people living below the poverty level, as following up on the census may not be as high on their list of priorities.

Those are understandable reactions. College students may not feel a strong connection to the area. The importance of being counted in the community where they live during half the year might just not occur to them.

We’d note that Delhi and Cobleskill host college campuses, too, with student populations representing a large fraction of those living within town and village borders.

We were glad to hear Herzig say the city is partnering with Opportunities for Otsego to create a strategy to reach people in the problem areas. Education and outreach can go a long way toward gaining a full count.

It’s also good to hear SUNY is developing a plan for the 2020 Census and will direct the effort on local campuses. Hal Legg, chief communications officer at SUNY Oneonta, told us, “At this point, we have identified a point person to coordinate that work here at SUNY Oneonta, so we’ll be ready to go when the time comes.”

In March 2020, most people in the country will receive an online, phone or mail invitation to complete the census, according to a media release. 2020 marks the first year the Census Bureau will urge households to submit census responses online. That’s also a problem, because more than 20% of Otsego County households don’t have internet access, Opportunities for Otsego CEO Dan Maskin told The Daily Star earlier this year.

OFO Planning and Research Director Megan Martin said the organization is looking at working with school districts and other locations, so people without internet access can submit the census via library computers. OFO has motivation here, too, as it does a community-needs assessment every three years using data from the most recent census. Other nonprofit organizations use data from the assessment for their own grant applications.

“We want to get the word out that this census shapes our community for the next 10 years,” Martin said.

And that’s the key. Census data affects our lives at many levels. Making sure everyone is counted helps our state, counties, towns, cities and villages get their fair share

We applaud these efforts to increase census participation and we urge everyone to take the time to be counted.

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