MURPHY: It's time to stand up and be counted

Finish the sentence with a correct statement:

One out of every 385 U.S. residents ...

a) believes in UFOs.

b) would go broke under the proposed health care reform proposal.

c) is upset over the cancellation of the 10 p.m. Jay Leno show.

d) lives in Gwinnett County

As startling as it may seem, the correct answer is d.

Don't believe it? Let's do the math. Gwinnett has about 800,000 residents. The U.S. population is about 308 million. Divvy that up and you find that, yes, one out of every 385 U.S. residents lives in this county. There are 3,141 counties in the United States, yet a quarter of one percent of the population ended up here.

When it comes to population figures, Gwinnett has been wowing people for decades: double-digit growth, fastest-growing county in the United States, adding 25,000 residents per year, more people than in four U.S. states. You've heard it all, but a review might be fun. Here are results from the last six censuses: 1960 -- 43,451; 1970 -- 72,349; 1980 -- 166,903; 1990 -- 352,910; 2000 -- 588,448; 2010 -- 800,000-plus.

That's why this year is so important to the people of Gwinnett. It's an official census year and this county needs to step up and be counted.

What's at stake? Up to $400 billion in annual federal aid that is doled out based on population.

Numbers also determine political representation. Georgia could add a congressional seat after this census. And depending how the new district lines are drawn, Gwinnett could pick up four or five representatives and a couple of senators at the Capitol. After all, we did grow by 212,000 residents since the last count.

Then there's the knowledge that allows community leaders can make better decisions. Community agencies can better plan social service programs. Businesses can do better marketing. Knowing who lives where helps determine where to build roads, schools, parks, shopping centers, movie theaters and restaurants.

And because data from this year's count will be used for the next 10 years, that aforementioned $400 billion in federal aid becomes $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

The last go-round in 2000 told us that 588,448 lived in Gwinnett and a lot of people believe that number was low. It was low because some didn't want to be bothered and some purposely hid from the count. There's so many to find in Gwinnett, it's hard to tag them all.

If our count was low, this county, its government and its people missed out.

Heck, we know it's crowded. We live with it every day. We might as well get credit for it.

In February and March, the census forms will be mailed or delivered to your home. To help some of those new to America, the forms are printed in 21 languages.

With only 10 questions this time, it's simpler than the 2000 version that required the respondent to answer more than 40 questions. That contributed to a low return rate. Of the forms mailed to Georgia households, only 65 percent were returned. Gwinnett fared better at 74 percent.

If the household questionnaire is not returned, the legwork begins. Census workers go door to door, hoping to fill the gaps in their demographic map. Workers are mandated to return to an address up to 13 times in order to collect the data.

The decennial census was ordered by Congress in 1787 and debuted in 1790. It took federal marshals 18 months of traveling door to door to collect their data. In March of 1792, the tally presented to President George Washington reported 3,929,214 U.S. citizens. Five percent lived in the cities; 95 percent were rural.

The way the data is collected hasn't changed that much, though. You still can't fulfill your census obligation online.

Gwinnett's been synonymous with growth. This should be our time to shine. When you receive your questionnaire over the next two months don't hesitate, don't delay. Fill it out. It's time to stand up and be counted. Or we'll end up on the short end of the stick.

J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.