Stop Making Census: One Man's Quest to Get Every Head Counted

As I sat there listening to the Countess, my mind kept wandering into dangerous territory. After all, it's highly unwise to lose focus when $400 billion and the balance of power in our American Democracy are up for grabs! The Countess was earnest; this was really serious stuff-the 2010 U.S. Census!

The Countess, our Regional Census Director, was asking for our help in getting the word out. Every 10 years since 1790, the U.S. has counted heads. Census results determine the apportionment of House seats in Congress and how billions of federal program dollars are allocated. The 2010 forms hit the mail in March; Americans are required by law to reply. For 2010, the Census form poses only 10 questions; should be a breeze! With so much at stake, we, of course, signed up to help out all we could. Thought you might like some helpful hints and guidance, too.

Of the ten questions, three (numbers 1, 2, and 10) are math problems. Even if you're not an Asian-American; don't panic! You can get through this! The first question asks: "How many people live in your household?" The second question asks: "Are you sure?" Question No. 10 asks: "How do we know you can count?" Clearly, there is some concern about the overall level of American arithmetic skills; at least with "people counting" there are no fractions! Just take your time. Use your fingers and toes if necessary; nobody is watching (see questions 4 and 5).

Question No. 3 is about home-ownership. The first three choices-own, rent, have mortgage-are very clear. The fourth choice: "occupied without payment of rent," I assume should be checked by all Southern California-Americans dealing with foreclosure. With this economy, not sure how folks living in their car should respond; perhaps just list year, make, and model.

Questions 4 and 5 are gimmies: What is your telephone number, what is your name? If you need help with these two, the census probably doesn't really want to hear from you. Even if you can count, they probably would be afraid of how you would vote. Of course, census folks claim that your answers will be held in the strictest confidence, and that their systems are "rock solid secure." (Oh, sure!) But, before you go off on a privacy tangent and start taking evasive action; remember the form did reach you somehow! THEY (already) know who you are; THEY (already) know where you live; THEY (already) know that you will (if female) probably lie about the answer to question No. 7 (What is your age?). So relax; get on with it!

Question No. 6 deals with sex. First question you've actually been interested in-right? As you might suspect, officially the government only gives you two choices on this one - male/female. Don't want to get all tangled up in that "don't ask, don't tell" stuff, but penciling in "other" is not your best strategic option. Regardless of your personal preferences, I suggest we unite to resolve the gender issue once and for all in this country by just penciling in "yes!"

Question No. 8 also deserves a little guerilla action. It's the "Hispanic/Latino" question, or what I refer to as the "hyphenated-American" problem. My favorite story on this one comes from Maria Scanga, a lawyer of Cuban heritage living in North Carolina. Maria and husband Ray (an IBMer) took a three-year overseas work assignment in the late '60s. Upon returning, Maria says: "I left an American and came home a Hispanic; what the hell happened while I was gone?!" Yes, just what has happened? Why do you and I condone this disgraceful "political (in)correctness"? So, once again, please consider dropping down to the block marked "other" and pencil in "A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N." Any other course would be un-American.

Are you ready for No. 9? It's the really big one-race. Beyond the usual, basic black/white, the census has taken "segmentation" to new all-time lows; right on down to Samoan, Chamorro, and Guamanian. Guamanian-Americans?! Really now, haven't we tolerated this absurdity long enough in our country? How does dividing us further along "racial lines" help move us forward on "the issue of our time?" Please, please take this marvelous opportunity to send a message. Drop down to the block marked "some other race" and pencil in "H-U-M-A-N." Shouldn't that be the only race that counts in the U.S.?

And, just for the record, there were only six questions on the 1790 Census: 1) Name, 2) Number of free white males over 16, 3) Number of free white males under 16, 4) Number of free white females, 5) Number of other free persons (Guamanians?), and 6) Number of slaves. Gender and race, race and gender; 220 years of progress? Perhaps by the next census-the "2020"-our vision will have become more acute. Let's hope so! I do honestly wonder how our president will answer census questions 8 and 9. It would be truly wonderful if the president would make a statement, would make "one thing perfectly clear"...

April 1 is Census Day; don't let a form make a fool out of you. Speak up and really be counted. It's time we came together and tried for a Concensus 2010. Guess I'll be hearing more shortly from the Countess about helping out...

Jim Blaine is president/CEO of State Employees Credit Union, Raleigh, N.C.