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Census Conversation

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The census form showed up at our apartment today. I read the introduction pamphlet and imagined this conversation with a U.S. Census Bureaucrat:

USCB: How do you do, good sir! I am from an important-sounding government office. We are currently collecting information about how many people live in each residence so we can provide the appropriate amount of money to people from other important-sounding government offices so they will theoretically be able to pass it out to you lucky people at some point in the distant future, if it isn’t given to other people from more important-sounding government offices first or used for other government programs that have no impact on you, were created simply for the purpose of lowering unemployment statistics, and/or shouldn’t exist at all.

Me: Hi.

USCB: Here’s the thing though. We need your help to count everyone by providing basic information about all the people living in your residence!

Me: There are two of us here. See you next decade!

USCB: Thanks! …but by “count” we actually mean “obtain enough information to create a basic social networking profile.” Can I have your first name, middle initial, last name, date of birth, gender, race, phone number, and whether you own, rent, or mooch? Oh, and the same information for the other folks living here too please.

Me: Uh. How is all this necessary to make sure funds are appropriated correctly? You said you were going to count. This is like if I had to tell you the length, width, smoothness, nail coverage, arthritis level, and respective dexterity in order for you to “count” how many fingers I have.

USCB: *friendliness vanishes* Don’t ask questions. Haha, just kidding. But seriously. Just tell me what I want to know.

Okay, so that’s pretty cynical. I do have to say that there were far fewer “personal” questions than I was expecting based on much of what I’ve heard. I was bracing for income levels, medical history, grocery preferences, all kind of stuff like that. There wasn’t anything of that nature. Check out the census.gov interactive form if you haven’t got your copy yet. It’s remarkably simple and, I thought, not invasive. Aside from the “own or rent” question, it’s what I would expect to see on a census form.

On top of that, I read some discussion (and some Constitution) on the legality and authority of questions beyond just “how many of you are there,” and it seems that whether we like it or not, the Constitution doesn’t nail down exactly what questions can be on the census. It gives Congress the power to decide.

The bottom line for me is that I don’t feel that my privacy has been violated. Then again, I am part of the Facebook generation.

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