According to the official government Census 2010 website, http://2010.census.gov/2010census/, it is time to mail your census form back or else workers will come to your door to fill it out in person. For most people, that threat alone is enough to convince them to mail the form back in, even if the statement on the envelope that filling out the census forms and mailing them in is required by law doesn’t do it. Every decade, a census is taken in the United States, so Census 2010 came as no surprise. But doesn’t this year’s census hoopla seem a bit weird?
The government reminds me of the mother of a spoiled, recalcitrant child, pleading, cajoling and threatening in the hopes the child will do some small thing she wants. The latest constant reminder is that mailing the form only costs the government, and therefore the taxpayer, 42 cents, whereas having someone come to the door costs $57. They tell us this via expensive commercials and numerous mailings – our humble home has received no less than four mailings regarding the well-publicized census. First, we received a letter telling us it was coming. Next, it came! Not long after arrived a letter informing us it had come. What is this, the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes?
Long after we had mailed it back, a duplicate census form, slightly different from the first, arrived, also warning us we must fill it out by law. I know personally of more than one confused citizen who dutifully mailed back both census forms. So of course we all know the next step in that parade. But they are all elderly and live in Florida, so perhaps this is not a country-wide phenomenon.
The 2010 Census is pretty funny. It wasn’t at all surprising that Census Day 2010 fell on April 1st, otherwise known as April Fool’s Day. As a matter of fact, all the questions, which most of us filled out in March, refer to April, as in “How many people lived in your house on April 1, 2010?” Sort of a census for Trekkies – future tense in the past via wormhole, or something. Without a rip in the time/space continuum, I couldn’t say with absolute certainty, so I just guessed. Even though everything was dumbed down, it still managed to be confusing, so guessing was really all that was left to me. For instance, I was asked if anyone who lives here sometimes lives elsewhere, such as prison. Well, no, not on March 25th; but who knows what might happen by April 1st?
The questions are in English and Spanish, and given the April Fool’s Day tie-in, I was tempted to fill out the Spanish side, answering None of the Above to the question inquiring whether I am Spanish, Latino, or Hispanic. But they don’t consider this question related to race. The race section is separate, and very specific until it suddenly reverts to “other.” I didn’t think it was politically correct to be obsessed with race any more. I don’t understand how that knowledge will help them “determine allocation of federal funds, as well as seats in the House of Representatives,” which is the stated purpose of the census.
But at least it was short. Just ten questions. Per person. In two languages. In 2000 the census was only seven questions. It was also estimated to take ten minutes. I guess we’re getting slow. Of course, in 2000 they also boasted that “some day, there may be no need for paper census questionnaires: Census 2000 will be the first in which many households can respond online.” So maybe, since we all got computer savvy in preparation, we have forgotten how to fill out paper forms. Or maybe we’re just disappointed. Doing a census with pencil and paper, then mailing it back by snail mail is a bit like pulling out a stylus and clay tablet these days.
That’s probably why the statement on the back, from the Paperwork Reduction Project, is my favorite part. Say the form takes you more than the allotted 10 minutes. Perhaps you are trying to think whether any of your household is likely to be visiting the prison on April 1st. The Paperwork Reduction Project gives us all a place where we can officially complain. Any comments regarding this “burden” estimate should be reported to them immediately. No doubt they will send out a letter apologizing. Or maybe two.
Personally, I think the whole problem could have been solved by mailing out ONE census form with a notice prominently displayed, informing each recipient that if they failed to mail the form back by a certain date, they would personally be fined $57.00, collected by the policeman sent to their house to enforce the filling-out process. Of course that might have completely changed the argument over who gets to be Person #1!