Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Multiracial Advocate and The High Cost of the Census

The Multiracial Advocate and The High Cost of the Census

The United States Census Bureau is so huge, so filled with layers of bureaucracy, that it’s always surprising that they can manage to get a census done every ten years. Lots of passing the buck ends up costing taxpayers—that’s us—big bucks for all that number-crunching. But did you know that a decennial census is not all the bureau does? They have a census every year. Honest.

The American Community Survey (ACS) is sent to about three million households every year. The government spends about $70 per person to fill it out and get this: It’s mandatory to fill it out. It’s not voluntary. They will track you down and they can fine you for not being very cooperative. By the way, it’s 26 pages long. You can do the math.

Yes, they ask for the race(s) and ethnicity of everyone in the household, even though they ask that on each census. Maybe they want to be sure that we’re sure of what we are. They also ask things like do you have plumbing facilities? What’s your occupation? How much money do you make? What is your primary language? They used to ask how many slaves you had, but they finally dropped that question. They have added questions about your health insurance coverage.

The House recently voted to eliminate the survey completely. That could mean lots of job losses at the Census Bureau! The Senate still has to vote, and most Washington folks are betting that it will go to a conference committee and they just might keep it, but make it voluntary instead of mandatory. That could actually end up costing more, but would be less invasive to our personal privacy.

A lot is at stake with the American Community Survey; journalists use the data to make those cute little pie charts about us, homebuilder’s need the data to know where to build, retailers depend on the ACS to decide where they should locate new stores, and that’s just a few of a long list of stakeholders.

Is it worth keeping? I don’t personally know anyone who has ever received one, so I can’t judge just how much time it really takes and how invasive people feel it is, but I know it’s something I hope I never get in the mail. I’m too busy keeping track of all of this.

Multiracial people are stakeholders in the ACS just like we are in the Census, but no one has asked us how we feel about it. So Project RACE is not taking an official stand on this one, but we remember how long it took to get the ability to check more than one race on the Census. The Census Bureau kicked and screamed about it all the way. If you’re someone who thinks they accommodated the multiracial community out of the goodness of their hearts or because it made sense, you’re living on some other planet. It took a lot of hard work by many advocates for multiracial people to back them into a political corner so they finally had to do the right thing. We’ll be watching what happens with this. If you feel so inclined, write to your senators and let them know how you feel.  

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