What Is The Value Of A Census?
The Commonwealth is nearing the end of its effort to conduct a census of population and housing. Preliminary data are expected to be available in the near future. Some people question the value of a census and some have been hesitant to cooperate with enumerators in providing answers to the questions which are admittedly quite personal.
But such people should realize their response is very confidential and the data collected and processed when published as totals are very useful in a wide variety of ways and, in some cases, could even save lives. For instance, the housing portion can give civil defense and emergency relief officials some indication as to the level of probable damage after a severe typhoon since dwellings with tin roofs, which is a question in the census, are most likely to sustain serious damage and render many houses uninhabitable. Census figures provide planners with the number of people who may need temporary shelter. By examining census figures the Red Cross or the U. S. military will then have some indication of the number of tents or temporary units to provide on a very short notice along with food and medicine. In other instances, medical officials are aware of the various diseases likely to affect certain age groups of people. In the event an epidemic of one form or another such as, for example, Rubella (measles), breaks out among younger people, the census will indicate the number of children among the various cohorts in need of inoculation. Disability information which is collected also provides guidance to health providers. The fecundity question asked of women of child bearing age tells demographic experts if there is an unusually high incidence of still births per thousand births and, if so, sends a signal to experts to determine the reason why the number exceeds the norm. The question posed as to the number of radios, including those in a vehicle, lets officials know the number of persons in the population likely to hear and react to emergency instructions. This could assist in negating rumors and limit the possibility of panic. Businesses use the data to evaluate market characteristics. An entrepreneur interested in manufacturing clothing for the local market can determine from the census the population within various age groups and can thus gain insight into the various sizes of clothing possible to manufacture and the gender for the garments. Of course there are many other uses for such marketing information. Census data does not provide information on the Commonwealth’s tourists, but does include statistics on nonresident workers. Educators use the data to determine the optimum location for new school construction and the size of the student population such facilities are expected to accommodate. The census tells government officials the number of jobs that will have to be provided for local people in the future.
Even newspapers can evaluate the literacy level and language usage of the population, as can education officials and advertising agencies. Comparing the most recent data collected in a census with that of a previous period is helpful in measuring population growth within all segments of the area’s ethnic composition and its economic strata. Characteristics of the labor force can be examined to provide a better understanding of the economy, the unemployment rate, wages by sector and a myriad of other useful information to both the private sector and the government. In terms of utilities, the data are vital in determining existing demand and is basic for planning future requirements for water, power and sewer facilities. Average residential rental payments by neighborhood can be obtained as well as private ownership of individual homes. Population data are used to reapportion the seats in the legislature and are essential in documenting applications for federal assistance of all kinds. A census is the only way to accurately measure what has happened in a society or area and provides a snapshot of the islands at a particular point in time. A census is the most useful tool for making projections of the population for those years between censuses. It seems that many of us always look to the future because – for some – the present does not satisfy. Our ideal, whatever it may be, always lies further on. For business and government alike, a census can point the way and provide direction for those profound investment decisions which must be made. It should be remembered that all information collected in a census is confidential in terms of individual responses and held in strict confidence.
Only when all the data are assembled as a total, where not a single individual or family information can be identified, are the data released to the public. Data for individuals or households are never made available to tax and immigration authorities or anyone else other than census workers who are sworn to secrecy. The information is held as confidential for 76 years or three generations. All census employees are subject to heavy fines and possibly a prison sentence if any information relating to an individual or their household is divulged to unauthorized persons outside the census effort. A census enumerator interviews hundreds and hundreds of people during the course of their assignment. They don’t remember, or even care to remember, the personal details provided by respondents. The housing portion alone involves something like 370,000 different entries. Information about individuals could exceed in total of 3 million separate entries. In the long run an accurate census is to everyone’s benefit.