Data released by the U,S. Census Bureau this past week shows we are running behind on the work needed to complete the once-a-decade count of the population — a critical mission that is scheduled to wrap up by Sept. 30.

Throughout most of this year — somewhat sidetracked by the COVID-19 crisis — citizens have been able to complete the census form on their own by filling out an online form, or submitting information by phone or mail, and they can continue to do so until Sept. 30.

Across Pennsylvania, this “self-response” rate has been 66 percent as of Friday, down from 70.2 percent in the 2010 census. Self-reporting rates have been lower in local counties as well, the Census Bureau reports.

In Montour County, the self-reporting rate stands at 58.6 percent, down from 73.9 percent at this point in 2010. Northumberland County comes in at 62.8 percent, down from 66.7 percent in 2010. About 69.2 percent of the population in Union County has checked in this year, down from 71.5 percent at the same time 10 years ago, and Snyder County leads local counties with a 71.4 percent response rate, down from its mark of 72.2 percent in 2010.

The next step is for people employed by the Census Bureau to visit the homes of those who have not responded and complete the survey. These visits will continue until Sept. 30, but during this time, citizens can still complete the survey on their own and submit it.

Montour County Commissioner Ken Holdren said he has been encouraging all citizens to respond. He is worried that the census will show a lower county population than what it actually is. “We’ve done everything we can to get people to respond,” he said.

The U.S. Census counts the population of the United States and five U.S. territories. The population count provides critical data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers and others use to provide daily services, products and support over the next 10 years. Billions of dollars in federal funding designated for hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other resources are based on census data. The results of the census also determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives and the numbers are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.

This year marks the 24th time that the United States has counted its population since 1790. Participation is required under the law.

So now is the time to get this done. The survey takes just a few minutes to complete. Visit the website — 2020census.gov — for much more information, including complete instructions for responding online, by phone or mail. And don’t worry if you have lost or misplaced original mailings with a 12-digit ID. There are ways to recover it using your address.

As the Census Bureau reminds us, this important data helps shape the future. “Your response matters.”

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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