Why all the hoopla over the Census?
For starters, it’s the reason behind the distribution of billions of federal funds to local and state governments.
In addition, the Census helps establish legislative districts and determine how many representatives are needed on the U.S. House.
The importance of the decennial survey comes down to money and power, said U.S. Census spokeswoman Pam Page-Bellis.
“Power because it decides how many representatives we have in Congress and money because $400 billion every year of government funds are allocated according to Census data,” said Page-Bellis.
But what is the Census? And how will Southwest Florida fare now that the bubble has burst?
According to William Maury, supervisory historian for the U.S. Census Bureau, the main reason the count exists is because it was made part of the U.S. Constitution. The founding document required that the seats of the U.S. House of Representatives needed to be apportioned by population while a state could only get two senators in the Senate regardless of its size.
The first nationwide census was taken in 1790 by U.S. Marshals on horseback, who counted 3.9 million people.
Maury said both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson expressed skepticism over the final count, because they believed that the U.S. had more than the 3.9 million inhabitants counted in the census. They estimated it was off by 5 percent.
They were right, because in addition to some white Americans who did not take part, black slaves were each counted as only 3/5 of a person and native Americans were not counted at all.
Over the decades, the Census changed along with the country and began to draw attention from not only government officials, but from special interest groups wanting to know the make-up of the country.
Maury said there have also been dramatic changes as to where people live, from rural to urban and then from urban to suburban.
“You get these various demographic changes over time,” he said. “So some states will lose a representative and others will gain a representative.”
The federal funds accounted for because of the Census go to everything from construction of infrastructure, hospitals, local and state schools, and social services including health care.
“It affects our everyday life and the life of our community,” said Page-Bellis. “It definitely has an effect on the quality of life in a community.”
As to how Southwest Florida and Florida as a whole will fare, Census experts said it would depend on Floridians.
The first Florida census was taken in 1830 when Florida was still a territory and counted 34,730 people. The most recent census was taken in 2000 and counted more than 281 million people nationwide and approximately 15.9 million in Florida.
According to Florida’s 2010 Sunshine Census initiative Web site, after the 2000 Census, Florida gained two additional seats in Congress based on Florida’s growth in population — taking Florida’s presence in the Congress to 25 seats, or districts.
Meanwhile, the districts in the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives are determined by population estimates. Florida currently has 40 state Senate districts and 120 state representative districts.
An accurate count of every person during this year’s Census could possibly result in one additional representation in Congress for Florida.
Stefan Rayer, with the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said the most recent population estimates show that Florida has 18.75 million residents — an increase of 2.8 million since 2000.
“Up to 2006, Florida was growing very rapidly at 400,000 people a year,” said Rayer, adding it coincided with the downturn in the U.S. economy. “Since then growth has slowed down.”
In the end, Page-Bellis said it’s up to residents to make sure their community gets its piece of the pie money and representation wise.
“If a community wants its fair share, we have to be sure we get an accurate account,” she said.
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Connect with Elysa Batista at www.naplesnews.com/staff/elysa_batista