Census too personal? – UPDATED

UPDATE: Crunching the numbers

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Steve

    Sharon, it is REALLY important for people to fill out their census information accurately. My wife works in community development for a local town and the vast majority of their budget comes from federal grant money. It’s the same in communities all across the country. Information about income, disability status, number of children, etc. is necessary for the government to accurately distribute these funds. This money is used to improve parks, schools, libraries, accessibility projects and much more.

    “Big brother” conspiracy theories may be fun to speculate about, but refusing to fill out the census can have a really negative impact on your local community.

    [I doubt that anyone would seriously suggest NOT filling out the census form. But I am reluctant to give more than the number of ppl living in my house, and their names. That's all a census should need. -admin]

  • Wendy

    Maybe I am more sensitive to it this year than normal since my husband who has been out of work for 9 months just got hired by the census bureau and is thrilled to feel productive again and we are happy we won’t lose our house.

    This video seems to me to take political paranoia to an extreme. I too am careful about what information is “out there” about me yet grilling census workers who are just trying to do their job seems a bit excessive.

    If he had any idea of what is required by the census worker he might not be so wound up about the GPS coordinate issue. My husband recently had to go out between midnight and 7 am to the northwest corner of a certain intersection to try and complete some census work with the homeless people sleep there. The coordinates are certainly to help the workers find where they need to be since the procedures can be quite complicated. This is no slacker job.

    You may choose to give the census worker as little or as much info as you choose – that is your right. Please just treat them with dignity as a human being and don’t belittle them for simply trying to earn a living.

    Done with my soap box now.

    [Not suggesting that anyone should "grill" a census worker or give them a hard time. Simply be aware of the information you do not have to supply, that's all. I personally wish my son had managed to snag a temp job w/ the census. -admin]

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  • doug in Colorado

    “None of your business.” will be the standard answer to most questions I receive beyond name an number of people in the household…and as for the questions on race, I identify myself as “Other: American”.

  • Portones

    As much as it grates on me to give out info to the Cencus Bureau, I wonder if ACORN or similar groups are inflating population numbers in areas that may not share my preference for limits on government. If the ACORN numbers are overcoutnted and my area is undercouted, which area will get more representatives in upcoming apportionments?

    Tell them honestly how many people live in your household. Protest with your voting. Write your representatives often. Such actions probably have more impact than harassing lonely census takers.

    Conceivably, giving more info could also get your area a larger share of big government handouts.

  • http://www.dymphnaswell.blogspot.com Dymphna

    I didn’t watch the vid, but as someone who occasionally researches her ancestors, I appreciate any and all info that said ancestors managed to give the census workers in the early 1900′s. I’m just sorry the info dries up prior to that for one branch of my family.

  • Sandra

    As I understand it, you ONLY get a personal visit if you DON’T return the mailed form(s).

    So, fill out what you feel comfortable filling out.

    BTW, if people REALLY want to know, my Race is HUMAN, and my nationality is AMERICAN BY BIRTH.

  • http://theblackcordelias.wordpress.com/ Nan

    My aunt worked for the census last summer, I think she was verifying that addresses existed. They called her back and she’s thrilled to be working.

  • Roz Smith

    In 2000 I told them how many people live in my household and that the rest was none of their business. No one ever called of knocked on my door. If they had I would have politely told them to leave.

    Frankly I am tired of the federal government paying out funds for anything other than the departments of Defense, Treasury and State. It’s been my experience that too many of those community grant programs administered by the Federal government amount to little more than stealing from the productive private sector Peters to pay the Pauls for slacking off, with a healthy cut coming off the top for overpaid bureaucrats. Most federal bureacrats now earn a lot more than their counterparts in the private sector. Several of the most affluent counties in America are suburbs of Washington DC.

    I live in a poor county and I can reel off any number of federal community grants for utterly ridiculous projects like turning a architecturally undistinguished former school building into a barely used community center and training part time farmers to grow organic boutique vegetables for overpriced restaurants and heirloom hops for small run breweries. In the meantime the EPA, OSHA and other regulators seem determined to place the large scale farming that provides cheap food for the whole world out of business.

  • Roz Smith

    In 2000 I told them how many people live in my household and that the rest was none of their business. No one ever called of knocked on my door. If they had I would have politely told them to leave.

    Frankly I am tired of the federal government paying out funds for anything other than the departments of Defense, Treasury and State. It’s been my experience that too many of those community grant programs administered by the Federal government amount to little more than stealing from the productive private sector Peters to pay the Pauls for slacking off, wityh a healthy cut coming off the top for overpaid bureaucrats who now earnm a lot more than their counterparts in the private sector. I live in a poor county and I can reel off any number of federal grants for utterly ridiculous projects like turning a architecturally undistinguished former school building into a barely used community center and training part time farmers to grow organic boutique vegetables for overpriced restaurants.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    I doubt that anyone would seriously suggest NOT filling out the census form.

    Ahem.

    I thought you knew me better than that.

    Steve gives some excellent reasons NOT to. This country would be a heck of a lot better off without all that spending of money that we don’t have, and suggesting that the reason that we need to give all this information is that so we can better leech off the government is hardly persuasive, if not a bit insulting.

    Sure, we need to accurately state the number of people, but the reason for doing so is not to get us some of that Obama-money from his stash, but to get our fair share of representatives in the House of Representatives and electoral votes in the Electoral College. And THAT is the number one reason why one side wants to artifically inflate those numbers and count transients and illegal aliens and even count non-existent people by extrapolation, so that they can rig the electoral system even more than it is now.

    [Nevertheless, the constitution mandates a census count; participation in it is expected of the citizenry. But not, I don't think, to an invasive extent -admin]

  • Diana

    Since I’m starting to work for the census next week (after being laid off and unemployed for way to long), my interest was really peaked when I saw this video.

    I’m wondering now what I will run into when I get out there. It’s a bit disheartening to hear Jerry encourage people to give the census taker a hard time. I’m just a local with the chance to get a temporary job.

    Looking at the bright side, at least now I know to be prepared for it ….so I don’t stand there and stammer.

  • NanB

    I have a question: can one really choose not to answer questions without being penalized?

  • d-day

    The Constitution may not mention all this stuff specifically, but there are federal laws requiring you to provide census info. This guy may be right to advocate withholding the info, but I think it’s irresponsible to advocate for it without letting people know they’re breaking the law.

  • stuart

    “This guy may be right to advocate withholding the info, but I think it’s irresponsible to advocate for it without letting people know they’re breaking the law.”

    …and it is sooo important to be a good citizen and always do what you are told.

  • Ellen

    I used to work in a government depository library. The first census was a slim little pamphlet and the most recent one takes up shelves and shelves of space.

    Frankly, I think they should just count heads. Period.

  • dry valleys

    I liked this about Michele Bachmann deciding the census is not so bad after all. Apparently she has, since then, redoubled her efforts to dig herself out of the hole she leapt into in 2009.

  • Manny L.

    This seems like a tempest in a tea pot. You’re only obligated to give some bare facts. The rest if you so wish to participate help understand the demographic trends. Frankly understanding the nature and state of the country is a good thing.

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    I will choose to give number of people living in my house and that’s it. The rest is MYOB stuff! And any Federal law requiring more from me is clearly unconstitutional! I shall cite the 4th Amendment to the Constitution as my basis!

  • Roger

    Jerry didn’t seem to do much homework in trying to find out answers to his questions. For example, the Census Bureau’s legal authority is codified in Title 13 of the United States Code.

  • Maureen

    If the government was really interested in the more intricate demographics, they’d contract with the various demographics research companies that survey the country every few months. People are usually quite happy to answer their questions, when needed; and they also draw from a bigger pool of information not specifically about people. There are a wide variety of useful tools to analyze all their results, and they have to be impartial to be trusted by their clients.

    All we need for the census is people numbers, not elaborate demographics.

  • Charles R. Williams

    Title 13 of the United States Code is trumped by the Constitution. People should answer census questions when a legitimate public purpose is served. No legitimate public purpose is served by questions concerning race and ethnicity.

    As a free people we have an obligation to resist laws that violate the clear text of the Constitution. We should also treat census takers with courtesy and respect.

  • Lily

    The cencus was originally designed to assist with Apportionment of Representatives.

    I absolutely HATE that it has become – “fill out the forms so you can get $$$$ from the government”.

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  • AvantiBev

    I don’t know where some of the commenters here are getting the notion that Mr. Jerry Day said to be discourteous or uncivil. He said if/when the census taker showed up on his door step, he was going to ask his own questions. If you listened to the video, you heard the questions he had to which the census media center refused to respond. Those didn’t sound rude or discourteous to me.

    Do you think it rude for a citizen to call up his rep or senator’s office and ask questions such as: “By what section of the Constitution are you authorized to put forth and pass Bill # XXX, Senator Foghorn?” If so, perhaps that is why the Constitution’s limits are trampled upon so often by those who have forgotten that they work for us.

    Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution talks of an “enumeration” i.e., a numbering of the PEOPLE not a numbering of toilets, disabilities, nor of salary figures.

  • d-day

    “…and it is sooo important to be a good citizen and always do what you are told.”

    Civil disobedience, if you opt for it, ought to be a considered rational choice, not a temper tantrum. And yes, actually, it is so important to be a good citizen.

  • Russ

    Being a good citizen does not always mean doing what you are told. It means doing what is right!

  • J

    I live in MA. In order for us to retain a congressional seat, we have to count the hoards of illegal immigrants in our state. And, in order to attract the aliens, we have to offer them all sorts of taxpayer-paid incentives. AND because of this, our VERY HIGH taxes are driving USA citizens and businesses from this state.
    I feel under seige. The assessor just showed up to re-assess my lower-end ranch house built in the early 50′s, and that will be followed by this census. My opinion is, this is my name, address and social security number, you may measure the land and the outside of my home….anything else I will consider an act of war!

  • http://BetweentheBurghandtheCity.com Paul Snatchko

    I’d like to second Dymphna’s comment.

    A few years ago, a local historian provided me with a sheet from the 1920 U.S. census that showed the girlhood home in McDonald, PA, of one of my maternal great-grandmothers.

    It was a wealth of details. It showed the family’s country of origin (Belgium), which of her siblings were living in the house at that time, ages and occupations.

    The census is a useful part of the U.S. historical record. We should take it seriously.

  • Sharon Warren

    From The Corner today:

    To Answer or Not to Answer the Census – That Is the Question [Hans A. von Spakovsky]

    I have been deluged lately with requests asking me whether one has to answer all of the questions on the 2010 Census, particularly those about race and ethnic background. Like Mark Krikorian, I don’t like those questions and don’t think the U.S. government should be collecting that information — its only use is to continue to separate us on racial grounds, for reapportionment purposes and for certain government programs.

    Mark has said that he is going to answer “American” on the race question. I have always been tempted to answer “Native American,” since I was born and raised here. However, people need to understand that they may incur a legal liability if they use such answers or don’t answer questions at all.

    In Article I, Section 2, the Constitution says that an “Enumeration” must be conducted every ten years “in such Manner as [Congress] shall by Law direct.” Congress has directed through a federal law that anyone who “refuses or willfully neglects…to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions” on the Census form can be fined $100 (13 U.S.C. § 221). If you deliberately give a false answer, you can be fined up to $500.

    Although there are not a lot of reported prosecutions, this statutory requirement has been upheld by the courts as constitutional. There is even a 1970 court decision from Delaware holding that there is a separate violation for each question you don’t answer. So, on this year’s ten-question Census form, you could be fined as much $1,000 — $5,000 if you refuse to answer or deliberately give false answers. If there was a mass refusal by millions of Americans to answer parts of the form — like the race question — the U.S. Justice Department would not have the resources to prosecute everyone who violated the law. But you could be prosecuted and fined, and there is a court decision from New York (which the Supreme Court refused to review) holding that a conviction for violating this law is valid even if there were other persons who also refused to fill out the form but were not prosecuted. (One curious exception to that: The liberal Ninth Circuit reversed a conviction when it was shown that the defendant might have been targeted due to his publicly held “dissident” view that the Census is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.)

    Everyone should realize that if you don’t complete a Census form, you are violating federal law. The chances of actual prosecution may be remote, but it could happen. The only real answer to this problem is for Congress to prohibit the Census Bureau from collecting such information and to make all government programs (and the reapportionment process) explicitly race-neutral.

    03/11 06:34 PM Share

  • Old Buckeye

    My issue with the census is that its Constitutional parameters are strictly for enumeration for representation. Period. The other stuff is info I may or may not wish to divulge, but when the govt. threatens to strongarm me into answering the questions, that’s when I get testy. When they set up the separate community survey thingie, that was still made to sound as if you’d be fined/incarcerated for not completing it. At least it is separate from the census itself, so it could rightly be targeted for a different purpose. It also seems ludicrous that they can’t figure out the info from elsewhere–such as cross-referencing the IRS to see what my income is or land sale records to see what my address is. So then I think are they trying to entrap me by getting me to state a figure different from my tax return on the census forms? It’s just another example of a govt. agency that has become bloated with waste, with nonessential personnel doing nonessential tasks for purposes of making everyone “equal.”

  • Kdaunt

    The fact that the census “creates jobs” in no way changes its intrusive nature. Any information that could be used for good can also be used (or misused) for bad. And as to job creation, the money that our government is spending on census workers, if spent for something else, would still create jobs.

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  • Thomas

    Are people really this paranoid? These questions are meant to gather information so that the government know how much money is needed for certain departments (transportation, education, public works, etc.) and how much money each community should get based on their population and needs. This is not a case of the government trying to spy on you. Get real. By filling out false information, or not filling the census out at all, you are most likely depriving yourself and your community of public funds which could be used to better your community. Then again, you are the same people that will cry and moan when you don’t receive those funds due to your lack of participation. Asking how many cars you own is not a personally impeding question. Grow up and stop playing into the paranoid musings of the media.


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