Within the next few weeks, households across America will start receiving 2010 census forms in the mail, and it will pay for all communities for all of us to stand up and be counted.

Within the next few weeks, households across America will start receiving 2010 census forms in the mail, and it will pay for all communities for all of us to stand up and be counted.

The Constitution mandates the national enumeration every 10 years to determine each state’s representation in Congress -- and thus its political clout.

But the importance of the census goes far beyond politics. Some $400 billion in federal spending is allocated every year in whole or in part on the basis of population totals drawn from the census. Federal aid for maintaining highways, supporting hospitals, assisting schools and keeping police and firefighters on the street depends on census numbers.

People concerned about the reach of “big government” will find the basic census questionnaire neither complicated nor intrusive. It contains just 10 questions, asking the name, age, date of birth, sex, race (or Hispanic origin) and relationship of everyone living in your house and whether you own or rent your home.

You’ll be asked for your phone number in case some of the information isn’t clear, but not your e-mail or Social Security number. That’s less information than most credit card applications demand. Fill out the form, pop it in the postage-paid envelope, mail it back and your civic duty is done in about 10 minutes. Census workers only come to your house if you fail to return the form or a follow-up questionnaire.

About one in six households will get the Census Bureau’s “long form,” which includes more questions about housing, ethnicity, jobs and other topics. They’re the same questions asked every year in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to develop a more detailed portrait of our country. As with the short form, none of the individual information collected by the Census Bureau is shared with any other government agency — not the IRS, not immigration, nobody. That’s the way the census has worked for more than two centuries, and it’s not changing this year.

Blowing off or boycotting the census for some imagined principle serves no purpose. An undercount only hurts the communities that come up short with reduced political representation and federal support.

Please fill out the census form promptly when you receive it, and encourage any reluctant friends or relatives to do the same.

The Holland Sentinel (Holland, Mich.)