Three hundred and two people were recorded as living in King County in 1860. That’s hard to believe when you drive around the county today. On my commute to work from SeaTac to the County Courthouse in downtown Seattle, I pass by thousands of other commuters, hundreds of businesses and schools. In fact, the U.S. Census estimates that 1.8 million people are now living in King County.
South King County continues to grow in diversity with significant shifts in communities of color, immigrants and refugees. The Highline, Tukwila and Renton School districts now report that more than 50 percent of their student population is non-white. What’s more, last year the New York Times named the Tukwila School District as the most diverse district in the entire country.
The U.S. Census helps our nation collect this kind of data and allows us to share these demographic stories about our communities.
This month, all of us will be asked to participate in the U.S. Census. You’ve probably heard someone mention a census statistic, like your city’s population, or perhaps you’ve seen a commercial or poster about the census urging you to participate. But what is the census and why should you care? In this article I share what the census is, why it’s important to you, and why you should stand up and be counted.
What is the census?
At the most basic level, the census is the way we count every resident in the United States. Our federal government started counting our population and collecting statistical data, door to door, in 1790 and has continued to do so every ten years since then. By capturing a demographic picture of who we are, decade after decade for the last 220 years, the census has allowed us to understand who we are as a nation.
Why is it important?
First, the census is a foundation for the United States government. By comparing a state’s population to that of the nation, the census determines how many representatives a state should send to Congress. These representatives advocate for you on important issues like health care, education, and the environment, so it is extremely important that each state is accurately represented.
Second, the census determines how much funding the federal government will give to states, counties, cities and communities across the country for services such as transportation, infrastructure, education, and human services. Funding decisions are made based on population numbers and the characteristics of a population, such as ethnic diversity, health indicators and income levels. In fact, more than $400 billion per year in federal money is granted across the country based on census counts. This means that for every person counted in the census, the federal government invests more than $1,000 per year. In King County, that translates to more than $1.9 billion per year of federal funding coming into our communities.
Why should I be counted?
We need you! In 2000, 74 percent of King County residents participated in the census. However, in parts of South King County only 55 percent to 60 percent of residents filled out their survey. With more than 664,000 residents living in South King County, this sub-region has a population greater than the City of Seattle and slightly less than the total population of Pierce County. It is critical that we collect an accurate “snapshot” of our communities, so that South King County can receive its fair share of necessary federal funding.
Information collected from the census not only directs money to our region, it guides governments and community organizations in planning for future services for you and your family, such as schools, roads, and hospitals and more. For example, in 2009, census data played a significant role in helping the county receive funding to begin development for the Lake to Sound Trail, which, upon completion, will connect miles of walking and biking trail between the southern tip of Lake Washington and the Puget Sound.
How can I participate?
It will take you 10 minutes to complete 10 simple questions. The questionnaire will arrive in your mailbox in the next week. So when you pay your bills this month or sit down to read the Sunday paper, set the time aside to fill out your census and be counted!
To learn more, visit: www.2010census.gov.
Julia Patterson of SeaTac represents the Fifth District on the King County Council, which includes part of Renton.