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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

C is for Census Confusion


I was reading this story a month or two back about this onerous-sounding census. Apparently, there was this couple that had to travel around 100km (c. 60 miles) just to get counted. Worse, she was at least eight months pregnant and they were traveling on foot or on donkey.

Oh, yeah, it was in the Biblical book of Luke, and it begins: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

Conversely, the US Census in 2010 is pretty straightforward, with 10 questions for the householder, and fewer for others in the residence. However, for some reason, there seems to be a lot of conflict and confusion.

Should we count illegal aliens? Well, the 1910 Census didn't differentiate; it just wanted a count.
Citizenship:
15. Year of immigration to the United States.
16. Whether naturalized or alien.
17. Whether able to speak English; or, if not, give language spoken.

Some say the questions are too personal.
The 1860 Census asked of each person: "Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict."

A complaint about the use of the word Negro on the 2010 form.
Fact is that people of African heritage have been designated so many different ways over the years In 1850, the tern was black, or if they were of mixed race, i.e., mulatto. The race choices in 1890 included black, mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon. In the early part of the 20th century, race was asked for but not specified on the form, only in the instructions. By 1950, the preferred term was Negro; 1970 said "Negro or Black", and by 2000, one could be Black, African American, or Negro. So I think it is much ado about very little.

Incidentally, those terms in the 1890 Census had some very specific meanings. Mulatto meant someone who was half black and half white. Quadroon referred to someone of one-quarter black ancestry. Octoroon means a person who is one-eighth black. These are not terms generally found acceptable in 21st Century thinking.

But these are point-of-view issues. There also seems to be some confusion about what happens when people live in more than one location during substantial parts of the year, such as people in northern states who winter in South. The Census Bureau will count people who have two residences "where they spend the majority of their time. People should decide where they spend the majority of their time and fill out the census form sent to that address. If a respondent tells a census taker that they consider their northern address to be their home, even if they happened to still be staying at their southern home on Census Day, the census taker will record the residents at their northern address."

Then there are the deliberate attempts to cause confusion in the Census. The Republican Party is seeking input and money from GOP voters — seemingly under the guise of the U.S. Census Bureau. There is also a census e-mail scam misappropriating the Better Business Bureau's name. The message, basically, is that one only needed to give the Census taker the number of people at the address. And the BBB is NOT happy about it.

One procedural issue that seems to have come to light especially in New York in recent weeks: The Census Bureau counts people in prison as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated. About 2/3 of the prisoners in the state of New York are from New York City, yet the vast majority of prisons are in mostly rural sections of the state. The argument is that the reapportionment favors those rural districts; what's more, those prisoners can't vote, making the imbalance even greater. Still, the Census is mandated to count people "where they are", and the reallocation of prisoners to various geographies if legislation mandating it comes to pass will likely be a logistical nightmare.

So, I guess this Census stuff isn't that simple after all.



ROG

35 comments:

photowannabe said...

Fascinating. the census has never bothered me personally. A count is a count.
Very original post for the letter C.

Amy said...

Very informative post Roger - my brother-in-law is working part-time for the Census in Arkansas. Personally, I'd be a little intimidated going door to door. Good heads up to mail the form too, so thanks!

Sylvia K said...

Interesting and I agree with photowannabe, the census has never bothered me either, it is what it is, but this is a very original post for the day.

Thanks to you and the ABC Team for a great meme!

Sylvia

Christine H. said...

Great post!
I don't think any community would agree to take a prison if they didn't get the benefits of counting the inmates as residents.

Stan Ski said...

You can count on authorities to make things difficult.

anthonynorth said...

I'm expecting similar problems in the UK census next year. A while ago there were debates about the nature of some of the questions. It will be interesting to see.

lv2scpbk said...

Interesting post. Enjoyed reading it.

Tumblewords: said...

Amazing how some can turn the simplest thing into a weird thing. Several people around here have received the GOP money request parading as a census count. Seems nothing's accepted without a huge litigation. Informative post, as always. Thank you!

Wayne John said...

I think I remember you saying that you have done your family genealogy, did you pull this info from your efforts there. Interesting look at the history of the census.

Much ado about nothing imo. Let's just call black black, and white white and then grab a beer and talk about how petty many of the worlds issues really are.

Rajesh said...

Very interesting information.

Hildred and Charles said...

I used to be a census taker, but it's not something I would want to do now. I hear about a lot of resistance to answering many of the questions asked, and I don't think the counter is always welcome. On the census of 1851 it was noted that my great grandfather was disabled because of deafness....

magiceye said...

interesting take on the theme!

Diann @ The thrifty Groove said...

Wow Roger! Who knew the whole census was so insane. I never really thought anything about it. I fill out the form and move on with life.

Great "C" for today!

Spiderdama said...

Very Interesting post and great C!
Wish you a nice day:-)

mrsnesbitt said...

Fascinating Roger! I really do not know a great deal about US but this year friends have been visiting and I am finding out more and more, day by day. The immense size of the place astounds me!

PS Thanks for spelling tips....all correct now! lol!

Denise on behalf of ABC Team

Jay said...

Oh, we've had confusion and contention over the census in the UK too! I think our questions are much more detailed and personal than yours, by the sound of it, but I don't mind. I make good use of past censuses when doing my genealogy research, and I'm thinking my descendants and other relatives will probably do the same in the future!

Mara said...

I can't remember ever having been in a census. I think it's mostly done by the records in town and city halls nowadays. They probably know more about me than I care to think about.

Kate said...

This is a great, timely post, information we all should have. Many thanks for your research!

jabblog said...

Counting heads can be very difficult when there are so many variables. Hardly surprising, really, in such a vast country as the USA. Very interesting post.

Sheila said...

Our next full census in the UK is due next year and I confidently expect the same issues as you mention to come up, because they always have in the past. Very interesting post.

Willa said...

I live in US for 6 years and I don't remember doing the census, Do they have to do it each year or only for how many years?

Gordon said...

A very interesting post; I worked as a census collector in a previous Australian census - we delivered and collected all forms. I like mail out as it would reduce costs.

Roger Owen Green said...

Amy - I did door-to-door in 1990. If people mailed back their forms, the need for that would be far less, and cheaper, too.
Christine - Actually, communities want the prisons for the jobs more than anything.
Willa- The Census is every 10 years, though there are other surveys, such as the American Community Survey, that's distributed to a small fraction of people each year, which asks more detailed info.

david brickman said...

Roger - Good post, and interestingly international feedback! I have applied to work for the big C this spring - am glad to know you went before me.

On the labeling issue: I agree with Wayne John that the simple black and white work best. One should also be able to choose biracial in my opinion if so desired. The worst label (misleading-wise) is African American. Two of my "African American" friends have included a white guy from South Africa and a Jewish guy from Morocco, both longtime American citizens and neither one black. Then there are Caribbean Americans, many of whom are black and/or Hispanic but not usually culturally African American (which I take to mean descended from North American slaves or free blacks). We need to be comfortable enough with our position on race to actually say what we mean, so I think black and white are most honest and usually most accurate (for the purpose of distinction).

Still, for the census, it's important to have the biracial category as a significant minority that is culturally different from black or white. Some pretty cool folks are in that group, starting with the President (though it seems he has chosen to be identified as black).

Joy said...

Very interesting on the changes through time, do we have enough distance between now and then to laugh at the questions.
They are always adding questions on ours but some, like religion, are optional. Last time around a number of people put jedi knight in that section as a protest. In ages to come their ancestors might wonder what that was.

LisaF said...

Census: a Confusing Count of Citizens. Thanks for the post...and history lesson! :-)

Leslie: said...

What a great choice for C-Day! I remember back in '96 I was the Census Commissioner for my area and had to supervise 12 Census Reps plus an Admin Asst. It was quite an experience for a 6 month job. I got to meet so many neat people and went into some pretty crazy places where people lived - shacks, houseboats, and other small boats, etc. I don't know why people object to the census 'cuz there aren't many questions and none are really intrusive.

dana said...

Great post for the letter C! Can't we all just get along?

Beverley Baird said...

What great info on the census!
Thanks for sharing.

Nydia said...

In Brazil, the last census was taken around... 15 years ago, I guess. A young woman came to our door with the form, asking us all these questions. We offerred her a coffee and ended up asking her as many questions about her and her job as well! LOL

Great post idea!

Kisses from Nydia.

Susan said...

I just got an education! My father is researching our geneology and finds the census to be a useful research tool. In Great Britain the info collected on census become public after 100 years. I suppose noone from a century before will complain about breach of confidentiality.
Thank you for visiting my blog.

Troy said...

Sometimes it seems it may be eaisier to travel for days, by donkey, with a pregnant woman, than to deal with the multiple levels of confusion created every day by our modern federal government.


I hope I don't still have to admit to being an idiot...

Great post!

Thanks for visiting my blog.
And thanks for all the work you guys on the ABC Team do!

Troy

Maria said...

This is a english term I´ve never heard of, but as some mentioned I guess this is just what it is. Thanks for stopping by.

B : ) said...

thanks for the visit!

angelcel said...

We have our own census here - separate to the UK mainland. I accept the necessity of a regular census being taken and as a genealogist old data has proved very useful but I must say that I can practically see the bureaucrats salivating at the prospect of asking overly intrusive questions and 'going through my sock drawer'!