Bracing for the body snatchers

Logo for the 2010 United States Census.

Image via Wikipedia

Even before it’s tax time in 2010, you’ll be badgered to fill out another government form.

The 2010 Census is gearing up, and I can only imagine what the folks who discovered “death panels” in the midst of health care reform will conjure up this time.  Immigration police? State spies? Body snatchers?  Anything, I’d imagine, to keep immigrants and urban folk, legal and illegal, undercounted.

As benign as it may seem, the Census is no mere count of those living in America. For one thing, it’s the basis of apportioning Congressional representation. For another, it’s a factor in distributing $400 billion in federal funds to cities and states for everything from schools to highways.  No wonder  the Brookings Institution is out with a new report predicting this years Census will prove contentious.

Titled “Census 2010 Can Count on Controversy,” the Brookings report notes that most households will get Census forms between March 15 and April 1 and that all are required by law to fill them out. But in some cases, because of language barriers, legal status, and, this year, shifting household residents, that could prove easier said than done.  Writes Brookings:

This coming census — the largest count of the U.S. population with more immigrants and minorities than ever — will be complicated further by the economic downturn and foreclosure crisis because many people are “doubling up” or otherwise living in temporary quarters….’Home’ may have changed recently for those whose hardship leaves them little choice but to live with relatives or friends, however temporary that may be.

In 2000, about two-thirds of Americans filled out Census forms — considerably fewer in urban areas, The Christian Science Monitor notes. It writes:

In general, those who don’t answer the survey make that decision because they are afraid the information might be used by the government to track them down or might be used for some other bureaucratic use.

Not true, says the government. Nor is the Census Bureau idly sitting by until others stoke these once-a-decade fears.  On Monday, it launched a $130 million national PR campaign to get Americans to fill out the abbreviated 10 question form, the Monitor reports.

Terese Watanabe of the Los Aneles Times, described it this way:

“The road tour, billed as the largest civic outreach campaign in the bureau’s history, features 13 vans that will bring census information and interactive displays across 150,000 miles for 1,547 days with 800 publicity stops at parades, festivals and major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four basketball tournament.”

And yes, Twitter, Facebook and You Tube will all be brought into play. (Hey man, it’s the 21st century, isn’t it?)

Bells and whistles aside, the Census does bring a bit of good news into play in these hard economic times: Jobs. Notes the Census bureau’s jobs’ web site:

Conducting the census is a huge undertaking. Hundreds of thousands of census takers are needed nationwide to help locate households and conduct brief personal interviews with residents.

So what if they’re body snatchers. At least it means a paycheck.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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One Response to Bracing for the body snatchers

  1. Caitlin Kelly says:

    It’s a good paycheck, too. I took the Census test in December and the jobs, in my area, pay $14-18-21 an hour. That’s much more than anyone else will offer and it can be full-time for a month or more. I was very surprised, mid-recession, to see how few people in my town turned out, maybe 20.

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