Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This Doesn't Make Census to Me

Like many Americans, I received my official census form in the mail yesterday. (For the record, I have no problem filling it out, and--as much as I'd like to move to a true post-racial society, where skin color is about as important as eye color, and national origin is celebrated, but doesn't define anyone--I'll avoid the temptation to be snarky and write "American" under the Race question.) But one thing struck me as bizarre: Despite the fact that the forms were timed to arrive this week, and the accompanying letter gently encourages us (in bold type) to "please complete and mail back the enclosed form today," the entire form is based upon a day that's over two weeks in the future! That's right--the opening statement declares that "The Census must count every person living in the United States on April 1, 2010."

So we're supposed to summon the crystal ball, are we? Granted, the size of my household has remained unchanged since the last time the spare room was rented out (which was around 7 years ago), but who's to say that something might not change in a few weeks? A friend could lose a job, become temporarily estranged from a spouse, have a flood in their apartment--anything could happen.

Obviously, I know that I'm supposed to fill out the form with things as they stand right now, but it still seems odd that they'd ask for a date that's several weeks away. Why not either date it as of March 15, or time them to arrive on April 1? (And the April 1 date itself is kind of funny; I wonder if it tempts anyone to indulge in a little foolery?) And if something were to change in two weeks, am I supposed to contact the Census Bureau and ask for a do-over?

A couple of other random thoughts regarding the census:
  • The process really isn't that bad; I finished the form in one minute and four seconds (yay for the iPhone stopwatch!).

  • The Race questions were unusual; after asking if Person 1 is of Hispanic origin, and then having three subcategories of Hispanic as well as "other," the next question asks "What is Person 1's race?" and then doesn't include Hispanic at all.

  • Confused by this, I look up and discovered that I had glossed over the statement that seems to clarify this: "For this census, Hispanic origins are not races." So why ask for them, then? Or why not count every subcategory? (With St. Patrick's Day coming up tomorrow, I'd be especially proud to document my Irish heritage, although the English and French parts of me might demand equal time.)

  • Despite reading about people who are complaining that the census is too intrusive, I can't find anything in this short form that fits that description. Maybe it might be an issue for two people living together out of wedlock and didn't want certain people to know, but that doesn't seem to carry the stigma that it once did. Asking for your name, birth date and telephone number doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

  • On the other hand, it is good to know that the information won't be shared or sold. Besides the obvious potential problem for people who are here illegally, something jumped out at me: The form has room to list up to 12 people in the same household! In the city where I live, it's illegal to have more than three people in a dwelling who are unrelated to the owner, so it's easy to see why anyone in that situation would not want their census information to be shared with the city.
All in all, it was quick and painless; in fact, it took far longer to write this post than it did to fill out the form. So have you filled out your form yet? And if so, did you beat my time record? Your response is requested...in the comments.

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