With the calendar soon turning over to a “0” year, it’s time once again for the important business of conducting a nationwide census, an activity mandated to take place every 10 years in an effort to get a complete count of the country’s population.

The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section II) stipulates the census take place, and the results are used for numerous purposes, including determining the number of seats each state will hold in the House of Representatives. For example, Texas gained four seats in the House as a result of the 2010 census. The information gathered in the census also dictates how billions of dollars in federal funds are distributed each year for critical public services such as hospitals, schools, roads, bridges and emergency response, according to information from the U.S. Census website.

The first census began just more than a year after the inauguration of George Washington and before the second session of the first Congress ended. Data from the six-question survey was overseen by then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson with the 1790 census assigned to marshals of U.S. judicial districts. Although questions beyond obtaining the count have been ruled constitutional, the goal of the census is to count each person one time only in the right place.

A complete and thorough count is critical. Once finished, information can be used by residents to support community initiatives involving legislation, quality-of-life and consumer advocacy; businesses use the information to inform decisions about where to build factories, offices and stores. These new businesses, in turn, contribute to a community’s job growth. Local governments leverage the data to not only ensure public safety but also plan new schools and hospitals. Real estate developers and city planners also benefit from the info, using it to plan new developments and improve neighborhoods.

With the new year now just mere weeks away, census officials have ramped up their efforts to educate people about upcoming milestones and why the census matters so much.

It happens every 10 years, and it’s rolling around really fast.

Toward that end, the Census Bureau recently launched a handful of public service announcements as part of its approach to build awareness of the upcoming census. The PSAs, designed for television, radio and online, look to answer typical questions around census activities such as why young children are often undercounted (estimates suggest 1 million young children were missed in the last census) and how to complete a census form.

According to census officials, data ultimately determines how almost $700 billion is spent on funds that support state, county and community programs.

The census is scheduled to be available by mid-March with efforts on gathering a complete count ending July 31. For the first time, respondents can participate online. Officially, Census Day is April 1.

“It’s very simple, takes only about 10 minutes and is 10 questions, and you can still respond by phone and by mail,” Yanez said in our story. “And if none of that occurs, that is when census takers will come to your door and ask to assist.”

The emphasis from those responsible for accumulating the information is for people to self-respond, assuring residents that individual responses are kept private and no personal information is solicited.

“Whenever an individual responds, it is confidential,” she said. “We cannot share with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement); we cannot share with immigration or any other government agencies.”

Individual responses also cannot be used against people to determine their eligibility for federal assistance. Likewise, census representatives do not ask for Social Security numbers, bank or credit card account numbers, money or donations or anything on behalf of a political party.

In other words, they have one job to do – count people.

Certainly, society has grown more complex and complicated in the 200 plus years since the 1790 census, and the job of obtaining a complete count is more challenging than ever as the country has grown in number (estimated 330 million people these days), diversity (basic census information is now available in more than a dozen languages on the organization’s website) and mobility.

That said, those factors make the job more critical than ever before. We encourage everyone to do their civic duty and comply with the census process, filling out forms in a timely manner by whichever method is most convenient and answering census questions.

The community that ultimately benefits from these efforts will be your own.

An editorial from the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News.