This year's collection of census data is a bigger challenge than most years, since census workers are hindered from home visits by the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States Constitution requires a population count of the entire nation every 10 years, which has been done since 1790. The methods have changed over the years, of course, but the importance of the data has only increased.

The first use of the population data was to allocate seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. South Dakota's relatively small population means we have just one representative, while California, the most populous state, has 53.

Since the 1700s, many other uses of the population data have been created, and the information affects not only the states but also counties, cities, school districts and more.

In many cases, it's how federal funds are distributed. Funding for highways, schools, health care and more through such programs as Medicaid, Head Start, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school lunch programs and others is determined by census data.

Madison and Lake County receive federal money for these programs, and the population count this year will determine funding levels. Clearly, those regions or areas that undercount their population are leaving important funding on the table.

But there's more: State funding for many projects is also based on census data, and businesses make decisions where to locate based on that as well. Many decisions in a number of fields affecting our area depend at least in part of population information.

Every home is Lake County should have received a census form by now. If every household returns it with complete information, we should be in good shape. If a household doesn't complete the form, the Census Bureau will try other methods to encourage participation.

Filling out the census form is something everyone can do, and we won't risk contracting the coronavirus by doing so. We have much to gain by having an accurate count and encourage all residents to participate.

-- Jon M. Hunter