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Published: Monday, 3/15/2010

Time to count heads

THERE are nearly 447 billion reasons to fill out the U.S. Census forms that will begin arriving this week in mailboxes throughout the country. That's the number of federal dollars divided among states and local areas in 2008, based on the 2000 count.

Ohio's share was more than $4.7 billion in 2008, a per-person distribution of a little less than $1,300, below the national average of $1,469. Michigan's cut was just over $16 billion, a little more than $1,600 per person.

The Toledo metropolitan area received more than $753 million in federal aid in 2008 based on the last census, nearly $650 million of which was distributed to Lucas County. If even 1 or 2 percent of Ohioans fail to be counted, the state could lose tens of millions of dollars.

The economic impact of filling out and returning the census forms does not end there. For every 1 percent of households that return the mail-in forms, the government saves $85 million that it would otherwise have to spend to hire temporary census-takers to go door-to-door.

But money is not the only, or even the most important, reason to participate in this decennial ritual. The results of the census also are used to determine the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the Census Bureau, Ohio could lose as many as two of its 18 seats once the population tally is complete.

Yet the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Ohio is within about 40,000 people of retaining one of those two seats. Holding onto House seats is more than a matter of pride. Losing two seats would weaken Ohio's voice in Washington and reduce the influence of its congressional delegation.

People who refuse to participate in the count because they view it as an unwelcome government intrusion are foolish. Those who fear information from the forms will be used to harm them are just plain wrong.

All Americans benefit when everyone invests the few minutes it will take to fill out and mail back the 10-question form.

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