Screw The Census!

San Francisco, 1980.

A friend drops by my house. He is a middle-level Democratic Party activist who has been appointed as a middle-level census supervisor. He lights up a joint. As he passes it to me, he explains that he is “working” at that very moment counting people for the census. “I don’t understand. I thought the counting was over.” He explains that he is doing “spot counts” of people who were not counted in the regular tallies. I ask him how he knows whether someone has already been counted.

“Well, we can ask, but usually we just make a judgment call. For example, I just saw 5,000 Hispanics on a bus who I am sure had not been counted.” He went on to explain the benefits of systematic overcounting. “We get more money for government programs and more representation in Congress.” I asked him how pervasive this was in the census system. He told me that it was virtually policy, at least in San Francisco. He went on to explain that, according to some estimates, there were actually 50,000 less people living in San Francisco than the number used to figure money and apportionment. I told him that I had not been counted, since I had burned my census form at a protest on the steps of the Federal Building. He said, “You are Now!” We continued to smoke and he continued to count imaginary people as the numbers on the budget continued to mount up.

The census is the largest remnant of the spoils system remaining in the federal government. All high-level census officials are chosen by the White House. Middle- and lower-level officials are chosen by Congressional offices. While some lower-level employees are chosen out of the pool who apply, rest assured that any ruling party hack who wants a job gets one.

A close friend of mine applied for a census job last year, when they were doing the initial “scouting.” She got a 94 on the test, which is clearly excellent. She made several calls but wasn’t given a job.

Last month, she called again and reactivated her application and test score. After many calls, she finally got a supervisor who explained that she would be hired, “if a neighborhood supervisor chose her.” She asked if this was totally up to the neighborhood supervisors, she said that it was. Her next call was to her Congressthing. She was able to speak to one of the Congressional staffers who, coincidentally, earned extra income as the local census supervisor. The next day she was hired.

It is clear to me that the census isn’t a little bit corrupt – it is a total scam. I would not be surprised if there are 50 million less people in the country, although it may not be that much less. It is clearly to the advantage of the people running the census (political hacks and officeholders) to pad the numbers as much as possible. It is illogical to expect them not to cheat.

Given what I know, I now look at the census advertisements in a different light. What I hear now is, “remember to fill out your census early and often and with big numbers. It is our future.”

I would never want to advocate breaking the census laws, but consider the stakes. Our only defense against this gross inflation of the numbers is to deflate them. The following are not recommendations, just observations of actions that people wanting to deflate the numbers would take:

* If there are 4 people living at your house, some people might forget about the others.
* If someone doesn’t fill out their form the worst they can do is fine them $100 (a rarity). When the follow-up people come to someone’s door, they may accidentally say that they are asleep but live alone and goodbye. Under census procedures, this would result in a count of one and no return visit.
* Some people just leave a note on their door saying they live alone and don’t bother me, I have tuberculosis (or some other virulent disease).
* Some people invite the census-taker in and offer some Great Spotted Suck Toad Soup.
* Some people answer the door in their Hannibal Lecter costume.

I am not going to answer and am willing to pay the $100. But my first plea will be self-defense.

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