In 2015, more than $675 billion in federal funds were distributed to states and communities.
Using 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, 15 government agencies distributed grants to 132 programs, such as medical assistance, a milk program for children, historic preservation, and disaster recovery.
Compiling the data is the task of thousands of enumerators who - every 10 years for the past 220 years - have committed themselves to counting heads in their communities.
It's not an easy job but it is rewarding and eye-opening, according to Sun City resident Pam Gallagher, who was hired to work the 2010 census.
"At the time, it was the right experience to have and it was worth my time," said Gallagher. "I really felt like I was doing something that was making a difference. What I liked about doing it down here was the variety of doors I knocked on and engaged people to just listen."
Every resident of the United States is required by the U.S. Constitution in the 14th Amendment, Article 1, Section 2, to participate in the census count.
The results have a direct bearing on many aspects of American life:
"Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States ... according to their respective Numbers. ... Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State,..."
Gallagher found that a lot of people did not understand the requirements or the value in filling out the census form. "I learned that people don't understand that the census is constitutionally mandated. It's in the Constitution. People resent it, mistrust it, and many don't want to participate," she said. "The ones who do, who are informed about why we take the census, couldn't have been nicer and were welcoming and gracious, even in places like Sea Pines where they had completed their census, but where I was only doing verification."
And what is the benefit of filing out the census forms?
The funds feed the needs of local communities through the joint efforts of area governments such as the Lowcountry Council of Governments (LCOG). It encourages regional solutions for Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper Counties based on information gleaned from census data, and helps connect the 25 local governments to specific state and federal programs.
"We're the ones who deal with statistics," said Ginnie Kozak, planning and transportation director for LCOG.
For example, Beaufort County in particular had a marked increase in its population over the age of 60 from 2000 to 2010. From 2000 to 2010, there was a 77.7% increase in residents age 60 to 74. That age group increased another 44% from 2010 to 2016. Knowing that demographic data helps the LCOG focus on providing access to and information on a broad range of senior living services.
Census data also helps LCOG members plan regional transportation needs and management of regional water quality; apply for community infrastructure and economic development grants; and generate workforce development through training programs for residents of all ages.
LCOG does not handle applications for employment or hold interviews. However, Kozak said the Census Bureau has been in the process of taking applications and will continue to conduct interviews with potential candidates.
"The interviews will be done locally, and the jobs are at all levels - from door-to-door enumerators to people who will be running the local offices," said Kozak. "There will be full-time and part-time, the whole range of what's needed."
Gallagher recalled that she applied for the initial enumeration, took the test and passed, and was called back twice more to fulfill other data collection needs.
"They do the testing quite a long time before the actual hire," she said. "The test was neither easy nor particularly difficult; it did certainly apply to the activities you apply as an enumerator. I took a training class that was about a week long on Hilton Head Island and there were at least half-day if not day-long sessions."
Gallagher found a practice test on the census web site and said it was most helpful in that it was very much like taking a college board test such as the SAT.
After getting hired and during the training process, Gallagher said she was fingerprinted and there was a background check. Military veterans get priority hiring if they apply and are accepted. Hires are also required to take an oath of confidentiality.
"I loved the work," Gallagher said. "It will be interesting to see if enumerators are issued tablets in 2020 and how much technology will play a role. We did everything by hand."
For information about applying to work for the census, visit 2020census.gov.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.