So about a week ago, amidst a typical busy day of classes, meetings with cohorts about all of the silly arts & music projects I'm working on, and generally stressing about my dwindling bank account, I stepped into the elevator at school and was greeted with an obnoxiously hot pink flyer. Though it had multiple typos and a predictable misuse of punctuation, it caught my eye. Well, the part about "flexible hours" and "$17.50/hr" caught my broke, starving, desperate art student eye. It was an ad for jobs with the 2010 Census.
So, I applied. I filled out an application, I gave them my drivers license, and I took a ridiculously easy 22 question test to prove I could read, write, and do simple math. I suppose that's really all you need to be able to do in order to perform the duties of a Census taker--fill out paperwork. Now, up until this point, I really hadn't bothered to delve too deep into the political discussion concerning the Census. I knew what it was for, basically, and all I really wanted to know past that was How much do I get paid?, and What do I have to do?.
The Census Bureau employees I met with were pretty vague about the job descriptions, and horribly unorganized. They let most of the art students sitting in this lecture hall fill out their I-9s before telling them they would be shredded if they didn't have their passport, birth certificate, or Social Security card handy, which of course no one did, as no one told us beforehand we would need it. They instructed us to fill out some questions on the application in a manner that completely contradicted the instructions. The meeting took about an hour too long and I rushed out as soon as I finished the bubble answer test.
I knew that I would be going door to door asking people questions about their households and families. I knew that I would be knocking on doors in my neighborhood, and not shipped off to Orange Mound or somewhere else that an unarmed white girl with a government badge probably shouldn't be at night. That all sounded reasonable enough.
But lately, I've been getting flack from my peers. I suggested the job to a friend of mine who is unemployed, severely broke, and without a car, as I thought it would suit him quite well. In fact, if he worked the maximum 40 hour weeks, He could make enough to pay his bills until mid-Summer in one month. His response was that he refused to be a government lackey, and that he wasn't going to sell out because he didn't agree with the Census. I've heard this from a few people now, but none have them have really been able to tell me what it is about the Census they dislike--not in any specific terms.
So, I decided I should probably go research this. So I did. I sat in front of my laptop for two hours straight and read articles, forum discussions, reviews, rants, arguments, and interviews from CNN, NPR, NY Times, etc. And honestly, I had to really dig into the bowels of Google to even find dissenting opinions. And when I finally did, it was as vague and empty as the arguments I've heard on the street.
Let me pause here and say, I'm not necessarily for or against the Census. I'm deciding.
I'm not going to bother going into the details of why the Census exists. I think the average person knows that it was written in the Constitution by our founding fathers as a headcount of the population every ten years. Most people know that this count is to periodically revaluate the Congressional and Senatorial seats each state gets based on their state's percentage of the national population. If you want to brush up on the basics, check out U.S. Code, Title 13, Ch. 5, Sub. II, Article 14.
Why would people be opposed to that? I've categorized (pun intended) those opposed to the Census into four main groups.
ONE) Ignorant racists. When the Census is taken, it's taken without bias. The government wants to know how many people are living in that house right now, regardless if they are guests, or cousins, or illegal aliens. A lot of illegals don't file with the Census because they think that information might be used to later find them and deport them--but it isn't. Census information is not publicly available to anyone than the Census Bureau for 72 years after. In any case, that means that the population of illegal aliens is figured into the total state population, and therefore electoral seat distribution can be affected by illegal populations. So, say a state like Texas or California, which is right on the border, is going to have a greater percentage of their population be illegal aliens, as opposed to somewhere like Wisconsin or Tennessee, where there are much fewer. Those opposed believe that the Census should not take into account illegal aliens, because they will then reap the benefits of the Census, such as the reallocution of state funds for schools, hospitals, and roads, but without ever paying into the taxes that pay for those things. However, those same people in opposition also believe that the Census should be used to hunt them down and kick them out. And, of course, their logic for why Obama allows aliens to be counted and not deported is that he is an illegal alien himself. Although, firstly, he isn't, and secondly, Obama did not create the Census. Thomas Jefferson did, dude. (You can check out that article, interview, & ignorant comment here: New Obama ATROCITY against U.S. citizens)
TWO) Uninformed minorities. Yes, the Census does want to know what race you are. If you are one of the houses lucky enough to get the long form, you'll also be probed about your immigration status and what country you lived in ten years ago. But like I said, and like anybody can look up for themselves, the information taken in the Census is confidential for 72 years after it's taken (check out FAQ #32 on 2010.census.gov's Constituent FAQ). Elected officials and priests have been known to preach against the Census in minority neighborhoods. The National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders just last year had rallied nearly 4 million of their followers to boycott the Census as a means of protesting for citizenship. They don't want to be counted without first be legalized, which you must admit is noble, but do they not realize that the Census is not even close to the right arena for this fight? Do they not realize that those enormous populations of illegal Latinos in California will be ridiculously under-represented if not counted? Check out this article in response: National Latino Group is Wrong About the Census. Some black community activists tell black citizens to mark only "Black" under the question concerning race, among the myriad of other answers, even if they are mixed with some other race, because it "threatens to dilute funding" to answer honestly. What's ironic about it is that up until the Civil Rights movement, blacks were only allowed to check "black". Check out this article about it: Isn't It Time to Make Peace With Your Friendly Census Bureau?
THREE) Conspiracy theorists. The most dominant anti-Census voice on the internet are aging hippies that are obsessed with missing microfilms and the shooter on the grassy knoll. One of the most established I've come across is Gary D. Barnett, who appears to be an all-around disgruntled government employee that moonlights as a "rebel". You can read his anti-Census article here (In Preparation for the 2010 Census!), but I must first warn you that it is typical of a fifty-something year old guy that used to protest in the streets about the Vietnam War while stoned out of his mind that now has expanded his vocabulary, cut his hair, and taken a desk job that he justifies by shittalking it on the internet at home. I've found a lot of this kind of opposition, and it's mostly paranoids that think the government wants to know when they leave for work in the morning because they're going to sell the information to petty thieves and burglars. Much of it comes down to the ever popular and rarely backed-up stance of "WELL WHY DO YOUUUU WANNA KNOW?", except they are the types who are never going to be satisfied no matter what answer you give them. To clarify, I'm not saying it's stupid to question the government--I think that an intelligent citizen should, and a good government is one constantly questioned--but I also think some people just like questioning things to question them, and that they are not at all interested in the answers.
FOUR) Wannabes. This is the first group of opponents I encountered, and I can only categorize them as such. These are basically the young version of the conspiracy theorists. It's not so much that they think that the government is tapping their phone lines or raping their babies, but they think because they're a generation raised on the internet--and I am one of that generation--they know what's really going on all the time. Also, whether or not you realize it, because of our age, this generation has a much heavier personal responsibility to know what's going on in the world, what it means, who it involves, and how it affects them personally than their parents. I feel like all of these twenty-something kids talking about "selling out to the government", "being a lackey", or how they "don't agree with what the Census does to people" have all been reading articles written by assholes like Gary D. Barnett and his generation. They don't have a real argument past some cited incidents from the internet, and who the hell can trust that anyway? Most of these people are the type that aren't going to send their Census forms back because they think that it makes them rebellious or individualistic, when in reality they're just asking for a dreaded Census worker--like me--to come knocking on their door. And most of them won't be so defiant and rebellious in the face of a living, breathing, tired Census worker, who is just trying to get through a shift and go home. And even if they are rude and defiant to that poor art student that's just trying to get rent paid, they're even bigger assholes. Harassing the waitress doesn't make your steak magically cooked right. Shooting the messenger doesn't solve anything, it just stains the carpet.
When it comes down to it, the only real, substantiated argument I can find against the Census are against the Census takers--poor assholes that have to go door to door harassing people. And really, if you read up, an overwhelming majority of the horror stories associated with Census takers are fakes--the workers, not the stories. The Census is taken on April 1 in years ending in a zero. The forms are sent out in March, and nobody comes knocking on your door unless you don't send it back. So if some guy comes to your door in February, introduces himself as a Census worker, and then asks what color underwear you're wearing, it's just some creep. Likewise with groups of "Census workers". Census takers work alone. There's a pretty decent list of what to know about Census workers here: Avoid Census Taker Con-Artists.
Like I said, shooting the messenger just stains the carpet. It's not as if harassing the poor schmuck knocking on your door is going to abolish the Census, it's just going to make another human being's day that much more awful. I think when it really comes down to it, it's just that the Census Bureau is kind of retarded--and by that I mean unorganized, clumsy, and officiously bureaucratic, but not malicious. I think most people hate it because it's mandatory, and everyone deep down has problems with authority, even if what they're rebelling against is something aimed at helping them. And a lot of people are stupid, and paranoid, and gullible.
I think the best bit of wisdom I've run across is from a Time.com article by Jessica Reaves, who is in favor of the Census because:
If we don't define ourselves, the government will do it for us.