Sunday, March 21, 2010

"git yer fair share"

(I'm sorry. I cant' write about the healthcare debate. I've decided that after watching all those machinations, like the old saying about laws and sausages, I am going to have to become the political equivalent of a vegan.)

Anyway. The Census. I guess I'm very out of step with the rest of the American populace - or what whoever is doing the census ads think we are - because I'd present the issue totally differently.

I guess my ads would be rejected and ignored. Because one would be:

"Fill out the census. It is part of your duty as a citizen." and the other would be "The Census: it's mandated in the Constitution. You like the Constitution, don't you?"

(Of course, if I ran the circus, the census would be one question long: how many people live in your household? No questions about race, no questions about whether or not you own your home...yeah, I know, old census data is valuable for genealogy, but these days at least, I'm sure there's copious other data out there. And the race questions...if they're used along with numbers for redistricting, I could almost kinda see some gerrymandering going on...)

But all of the ads are essentially appealing to the "gimme" mentality: the one about the schools, the one about the buses (and another quibble: when is the last time you saw a town of 1000 that had buses? But that's the example the ad uses.) The whole thing is, "Get your FAIR SHARE." Uh, yeah. I think the school districts know how many kids are in town without the census. I think city planners can figure out, "Wow, congestion on our roads is getting really bad" without the data (for that matter - how soon will it become available? The ads make it sound like "fill out the census, and abracadabra, you will have enough buses and enough schools and enough stoplights." Um, doesn't quite work that way).

So I don't know. Is the American public that selfish, or are the advertisers that cynical, that they think the only way to get census data is to tell us they're gonna give us stuff? (If it comes down to that - why not offer a chance at a free iPod or know, "We will give away 1000 new iPods to randomly drawn participants")

I admit it, I'm a bit more cynical about the census now than I used to be. The first one I filled out in 1990, I dutifully did the whole thing...and then they sent a census worker to my apartment! I don't know why, but I was kind of embarrassed letting the young woman with her official badge and clipboard into my messy space (it was getting close to finals when she showed up) and answer orally the same questions I had filled out on the form. In 2000, I don't even remember if I did it - I may actually have not gotten a census form (I was still living in an apartment - but a different one, in a different part of the country - then).

This year, I look at the questions. Do I own my house? Do I ever live or stay somewhere else, like in prison? Do I have a second home? (That's another part of the "do you ever live somewhere else" question). What race am I?

If I were mixed-race - like, if I had an Japanese mom and a "mixed European white" dad - I'd be a bit confused, there's no box for that. There's no "mixed" box. I know that was a big issue last time and apparently they've not rectified it. I wonder what mixed-race people do? Do they put down the one they relate most to, or do they check more than one box and hope they don't get a follow-up call to explain?

I understand why the census bureau would want to know, but there are all kinds of issues with race and how you see yourself. (Hm. I wonder what Navin Johnson would put himself down as.)

I dunno. I understand that it's important, but in this climate of government seemingly wanting to get its tentacles into everything (or so I sometimes feel), some of the "innocent" questions (like: "do you own your home") seem like they could be used for other purposes, if someone managed to violate the 72-year embargo on linking data to individuals.

1 comment:

Kate P said...

Heck, it annoyed me when they asked for my phone number. They don't need to call me to clarify a single answer.