It takes only a few minutes to fill out a census form. The answers, however, will outlive us all.

There are a number of good reasons to respond to the 2020 census, not the least of which is that it is a constitutional duty required by law.

But as much as it an important governmental function, the census is an invaluable snapshot of our lives at this particular moment.

Researchers and historians for a long time have used the information provided by the census, which has attempted to count (almost) every American every 10 years since 1790. Now that the available census records have been digitized, anyone with access to a computer can look them up.

Those records include the answers to just a few simple questions. But they tell us so much: Who lived where, and with whom. Their ages. Where they came from, and where their people came from. Whether they own their home, or rent.

The answers inform important decisions, such as how to draw congressional, state and local electoral districts. They help determine where more than $675 billion in federal funding goes, for items including transportation, housing, health care and education, and programs such as Medicaid, Head Start and school lunch. They influence planning for governments at all levels. They help businesses and nonprofits decide where to place resources.

Mainers should fill out the census form just to make sure our state gets the federal funding and political representation it deserves.

But they should also do it for the sake of posterity. Just as Americans now can look at the census of 1890 or 1940 and tell a lot about the lives of the people who lived in their neighborhood, future generations will do the same for the 2020 count. Together with results from other years, they’ll be able to tell where the old houses were and where the new ones were built, where there were workers, kids and retirees, and who stayed for a long time and who moved in and out.

Uniquely through the census, the places we call home truly live and breathe.

Unfortunately, Maine is lagging behind on answering the census, with just 36.2 percent of residents responding as of Monday, compared to 45.1 percent nationwide. That put Maine 46th among the states and territories, just ahead of Wyoming and Vermont, and just behind Montana. Rural areas are even further behind; the 2nd Congressional District has a 32.7 percent response rate.

In 2010, Maine finished with a response rate of 68 percent, about middle of the pack.

We can do better. The U.S. Census Bureau had planned to finish up the count by July 31, but it may have to be extended because of the COVID-19 outbreak. For the first time, respondents can fill out a form online at 2020Census.gov, or they can mail it in or call 1-844-330-2020.

For your neighbor’s sake, for your state’s sake, and for history’s sake, stand up and be counted.


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