Friday, March 19, 2010

The 2010 Census -- and Counting

So, with all the fanfare that can come from a multi-million dollar advertising campaign from the people who brought us "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show," the Government has begun its decennial obligation to "number the people. Some of us will be blessed to receive the short census form -- others the long form. Some of us will answer quickly, others slowly, and some may even just forget or ignore it. That is when the REAL census machinery breaks out in force -- the field squads whose job it is to number the conscientious objectors and forgetful among us -- along with the homeless, and others who, for some reason, do not receive mail.

It should be fairly easy, one would think, to get an accurate count of the population of this fine country, which, after all, IS the primary purpose of the census. The stuff about how many toilets and telephones are in your house, while important on a more local basis, is definitely a secondary undertaking. But, as we learned a decade ago, there are legitimate issues in finding those who can't or don't wish to be found, and legitimate differences of opinion on how to treat that reality. Sad that in some minds, some of us (the homeless, et al.) still only count for 3/5ths (or less) of a person.

And, in this day and age, one needs to wonder why this whole process cannot be done on-line, without wasting thousands of trees! However, I believe the surprising answer to this lies in another anomaly -- nowhere on the form are you asked to provide your address! Since we KNOW that much of the crunching of the data is location dependent, this information must already be encoded somewhere on the form that you received in the mail -- TO YOUR ADDRESS! And there is not yet a method to avoid someone deliberately skewing the results online -- by filing multiple responses. The pre-encoded address information is therefore what keeps the responses somewhat honest!

However, there are some very real philosophical and statistical issues, some comical, some very real. And despite some pretty clear instructions, some of the serious issues risk being subject to multiple interpretations which WILL skew the results. For example:

(and this is based on a real example, slightly expanded upon for impact): divorced couple with 2 children, had 2 residences -- a townhouse in manhattan, and a country home in connecticut. She gets the townhouse, he gets the CT house. They split custody of the kids, although she has physical custody. The older child goes to school at georgetown, and lives in a lovely off campus apartment within the city limits. The younger child goes to school near her father in CT, and therefore lives at his house the majority of the week, despite the court decision. both kids have their cars registered in CT, to save on the insurance, but are registered voters in NY, which IS their legal address.

According to the census, how are they counted?

Bottom line -- we need to make this process more tech savvy and user friendly, so both the primary and secondary purposes of the census do not conflict, and multiple responses from different members of the same family living temporarily or permanently in different places can be accurately and effectively cross-referenced. Because, according to the census rules, the older daughter lives in DC and the younger daughter in CT, even though both legally live and vote and should be counted in NY! In fact, the older daughter, because she is NOT living in a dorm, will get her own form to fill out -- which may or may not match the info either of her parents share! And each of them have to determine how to properly deal with their kids' statuses as well! It is NOT inconceivable that these 4 people could end up being counted as 7 -- 3 in new york, 3 in CT, and 1 in DC! Even if they ALL get it "right" according to the directions, NY will still be shorted by 2 legal voters in its count, while DC and CT will each gain a body that isn't truly theirs when it comes to apportioning seats in congress!

To end on a humorous note -- as shared with me by a former city councilman here. He recognized the trap, and e-mailed a political friend, a former newspaper editor of his acquaintance, and his son for their advice. The simple, if sneaky, question -- who is "Adult #1." The politician responded: This is very tricky situation, and requires great diplomacy. The former editor replied: My dog. The son, having learned much from his father, responded: I am letting my wife fill it out!

So get out there and get counted -- maybe multiple times!

1 comment:

  1. you could ask one of our friends who works at census - but I think the barcode on the front of the form somehow indicates your address