“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

These words spoken by President John F. Kennedy during his 1961 inaugural address might evoke images of young people enlisting in the armed services or people volunteering for AmeriCorps to tutor kids needing help to read or people organizing crews to clean up sections of highways under the Minnesota Adopt-a-Highway program.

But even as important as these services are to the country, there is another equally important volunteer-dependent service that goes almost unnoticed, this being the many ongoing surveys which measure various aspects of American lives, conducted every year by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Most people know that the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a population count every 10 years. But few probably know that bureau also conducts more than 130 surveys each year and that the success of these are only possible through the cooperation of millions of Americans unselfishly willing to reveal details of their lives for statistical purposes. No other reason exists for spending the time, sometimes up to two hours per survey, and the willingness to answer detailed personal questions than a desire to do something that benefits the country.

Just how essential these surveys are to the support of an effective and efficient American government cannot be overstated. The information collected gives decision-makers at all levels of government what they need to understand how the country is changing, if the right resources are being dedicated to the right places, what is working and not working, and what is needed to improve the lives of Americans.

The surveys are scientifically developed and delivered to provide the most comprehensive and accurate information. To do this, survey respondents are asked to suspend natural tendencies to guard private, personal information in order to participate in the success of the bureau’s statistic gathering efforts. In exchange, the bureau promises participants absolute confidentiality and is constantly enhancing its security systems to protect private data.

Participants in most Census Bureau surveys are chosen through scientifically selected sample addresses from a list of all residential addresses in the country. This specific sample selection makes any one person’s chances of being selected somewhat remote but regardless of this someone is chosen and needed to provide the raw material that makes the survey a success — personal data. Participants usually are given a variety of ways to respond – a mailed survey and response, telephone call, online responses or an in-person interview.

So if you haven’t found any other way to do something for your country, responding positively to a request to participate in a Census Bureau survey is an important way to serve. Your answers can make a vital difference.

The statistics developed from your answers to survey questions, combined with the answers of others, assist businesses, governments and organizations make well-informed decisions that can make life better for everyone in the country.

Among the surveys currently being conducted throughout the country, and in Minnesota, are the American Housing Survey, which is the most comprehensive national housing survey, and the Survey of Income and Program Participation, which is designed to provide a continuing measure of the economic condition of the United States.

Answering positively to a request to participate in these or any surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau is an excellent way to respond to President Kennedy’s challenge made 60 years ago.

So say “yes” if you are fortunate enough to be selected for this important service to your country. You will be joining millions of other unsung heroes (due to the strict confidentiality of the bureau’s operations) across the country who are contributing a wealth of benefit to us all.

— An editorial from the APG of East Central Minnesota Editorial Board. Reactions are welcome. Send to: editorial.board@apgecm.com.

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