Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

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next week's column: Down for the Count With the Census


The Census people want me to count everyone in the house. Foolishly, forgetting it’s run by the Federal government, I thought it would be easy. I’d look around: “One … two … three. Okay, let’s get lunch.”

Now, I’m not saying the national census isn’t important.

On the contrary, the census – which dates back to the very beginning of our country – is very important, indeed. Sure, there are the usual reasons: Getting the proper information reveals all sorts of problem areas, giving people a chance to identify community needs and then to meet those needs. I don’t have a whole bunch of faith in the federal government solving a lot of those problems, but local governments and organizations can use the information, too.

What the federal government does do is distribute federal dollars based on the census count. All else being equal, if a certain city has, say, 17% of the people they get 17% of the money – which came from them originally, anyway. Since those aforementioned problems often can’t be easily solved without somebody spending something on something, the count really does become critical.

Our government isn’t always fair. (No, seriously – it’s true!) For instance, one thing we learned during the health care debate was that extra money sometimes gets thrown into certain Congressional districts to buy votes, and Congressional leaders somehow seem to get more programs and projects than more junior members do. In private business, it’s called “bribery” and “graft”.

Just the same, every now and then the system does work as it should, and areas with higher numbers of people do get more funding -- and better Congressional representation.

So why do people complain about the census so much?

Well, for starters, the envelope it comes in is emblazoned with great big words: “Your response is required by law”.

Please. This is America. You can preach about how important something is all you want, but no matter how much it makes sense, nothing gets an American’s back up faster than telling him his response is required. If you tell us we shouldn’t step into the path of a moving car, half of us will get our legs broken out of spite. Put it in the fine print, sure, but don’t smack him across the face with it.

Instead, the envelope should have said: “Coupons worth fifty dollars inside!” Or, “Enclosed, please find naked pictures of Paris Hilton”.

(Is she still around?)

But that’s not the big problem. The big problem is that the census has become just a bit too … detailed. There are actually two surveys being sent out: One is a short form, which includes the number of people in the household and some other details. Then there’s the long form. (They’re calling it the American Community Survey, apparently because that sounds cool.)

I got the long form.

It’s LONG.

Frankly, I don’t think the Founding Fathers ever intended for the government to collect details about my home’s plumbing. Okay, they didn’t have plumbing, so maybe that’s a bad example, but let’s take a look at some of the information the government now wants:

Name. Okay. They want to know who’s there and who isn’t, and make sure people don’t get counted twice, I get that. We don’t want somebody to claim there are twenty people in their home just to bring more money into town – this isn’t a Chicago election.

Value or rent. They want to get an idea of economic conditions, and how it changes over time. I get that.

Place of birth. Trends about where people go. For instance, some people can stand only so many Midwest winters before they head south.

Job. At the present rate, by 2012 everyone in the country will be working for the government, so I’m not sure I see the point.

Plumbing and kitchen facilities. Okay, see, you lost me there. Let me read you the exact question:

“Include the number of toilets and sinks, and measure the exact length of every pipe or tubing used for any purpose on the entire property.”

Little overboard, there. And maybe there’s the real problem – not the questions, but how detailed they are. Let’s take a look at some more:

“Describe each vehicle that is now or ever has been on the property, along with the present and all past license plates numbers.”

“Give total count of blades of grass on the property, dividing the area into a grid beginning with the northwest corner of the westernmost property line and proceeding counterclockwise to the centermost grassy area, minus dandelions.”

“Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person like Ben Affleck movies?”

“Hold old is your carpet? Why the heck haven’t you replaced that ancient cruddy thing?”

“List number, make, age, and general condition of all snow shovels in the household.”

“How many sports fans are in the household? Which sports? What are their records? Any current steroid investigations? Are any Cubs fans currently undergoing treatment for depression?”

“List favorite and least favorite foods of each food group for each family member and each neighbor for a 300 foot radius. Explain why you don’t like them.”

“Estimate in cubic feet the average amount of methane released by each family member through biological processes, including pets and small rodents, total, and send the total to Copenhagen.”

I don’t know. Something about that last question just stinks.

I finished the long form – it took me a lot longer than the instruction claimed – and sent it on in, despite being legally required to do so. Then, to maintain my integrity as an American, I walked out in front of a moving car. A guy’s got his pride.
Tags: column, new era, slightly off the mark
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