The Census Story: Differentiating Between Conspiracy and Incompetence

by on March 17, 2010 · 13 comments

in Economy, Media

censusThe mailman delivered our family’s census form yesterday. According to the Census Bureau, our form was among 120 million others mailed out over the weekend. It consisted of ten questions that covered our household’s ages, relationships, racial & sexual attributes. And, oh yeah, they wanted to know if we owned or rented our home. The whole questionnaire took about two minutes to fill out. I’ve spent a lot more time and given out a lot more information setting up on-line profiles so I could gain access to Ticketmaster-type or foodie websites.

If memory serves me right (and I’ve been around for a few census counts) this decade’s form had fewer questions than ever before. I didn’t feel that my privacy was violated in any way. So I had to wonder what all the noise around the internet/news media over the past year was all about. So I cranked up the official OB Rag wayback machine (also known as the Google) to revisit the issues at hand.

Here’s a “top five” list of the conspiracy theories that were making their way around the web over the past year.

MicheleBachmann1. At the top of the list has to be Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann for telling people to not participate in the census, saying that she didn’t trust ACORN with her personal information (never mind that ACORN has never collected census data), that the census would lay the groundwork for World War II-style internment camps, and that the government was trying to gather information about people’s mental health. But then, the largest newspaper in Bachmann’s state of Minnesota warned people that if they don’t participate in the census, the state stood to lose a seat in Congress. You see, the main purpose of the census is to determine how many representatives each state receives in the House, and other states are growing faster than Minnesota. And irony of ironies, if they do lose a seat, the district that is most likely to be dissolved and merged into the other districts is … wait for it … district, currently represented by Bachmann. Curiously, Bachmann has not said anything against the census lately.

2. Over at, a virtual cauldron of conservative conspiracies, much is being made of the adoption of GPS by census-takers (Used in rural areas where addresses may not exist). Could it be a way of targeting “undesirables” for missile-drone attacks? Waste of ammo if you ask me.

3. The American Daily Review suggests that the Census GPS is a way to help United Nations personnel round people up after Obama lets foreign troops control the country. Watch out for those pesky Canadians! They probably want to impose their health care system on you and your family.

neal4. Anti-tax activist Neal Boortz thinks the Census is being used to take away your property and give it to the “moochers.” He needs to get out of the radio studio and interact with the real world. By the way, Neal, got a quarter you can lend me?

5. Michelle Malkin suggests Obama aims to use the Census to undermine border control and give “the Left” a “permanent ruling majority” with the help of undocumented immigrants. Does the Census Bureau have a secret ray gun or something that will make herding cats easy?

The best thing about all these paranoid fantasies is that they look even sillier a year later.

Now, on the other hand, if you want to complain about the Census Bureau, start with my story.

Last year, in the throes of an unemployment nightmare, I applied to the Census Bureau. Without boring you too much, let’s just say I have an interesting resume: tons of experience in inventory, number crunching, and managing people, coupled with top-shelf references and a history of job stability.

The Census Bureau requires all prospective employees to pass a background check, wait by the phone for their call and take a written exam. I was pretty sure that I had first two items covered, so I went down to the employment center on University Avenue and took the test. It was not all that hard, but you couldn’t tell that from the reactions of the people who were taking the test with me. I started to worry that I was missing something on the test, like maybe the questions were all trick questions.

The tests were scored while we waited. I came through with a score of 94 out of a hundred. The Census people at the center explained to us that people with lower scores (below 82, as I recall) should come back and try taking the test again. The rest of us were to go home and wait. If you’ve had to look for a job lately, you get mighty good at that waiting stuff. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Other people I know got letters explaining that they hadn’t passed their background checks. I didn’t get one of those letters. I didn’t get squat. No phone call, nothing. I left messages. No return calls came.

So yesterday, after filling out the Census form, I figured I’d call one more time. Guess what happened? They lost track of me.

If you want something to worry about when it comes to the Census, consider that. Now I’m worried that they’ll lose my questionnaire and I’ll end up with a bunch of GPS toting ACORN members on my doorstep wanting to ask questions.

I wonder if Neal Boortz can help me….

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar PSD March 17, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Ha…I saw a sign down on Newport today that said it’s not too late to apply for Census jobs. Being in a predicament similar to what you described, I took down the info and figured I might give ’em a call and see if they pay better than unemployment – wonderful to find out they sound about as professionally managed as my last big corporate employer.

Got my census packet a couple days ago, it certainly seemed like a joke. Then again, last census I was barely 18, living in the ghetto with 4-7 other people in a 2 bedroom apartment, and the day they mailed the form must’ve been one of those days of the week ending in ‘y’ that our mail got stolen, because some lady showed up at random one day and spent 20 minutes grilling me in the doorway about my family makeup, income level, type of heating unit in our house (body), age of our apartment building, and so on…I didn’t even have a chance to finish typing out the Rag rant I was working on this time before Christina had scanned the form, checked a couple boxes, and sealed the sucker up to mail back out.


avatar oBak March 17, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Yeah, my grandpa sent me an email about how the census was a huge privacy breach and on who’s authority do they get to ask you all of the personal questions and whatnot. The sample census the guy was showing had all kinds of crazy questions on it, making me think that perhaps the dude was actually a victim of a phishing scam rather than a real census. He kept talking about the 2 year census. I had no idea what my grandpa was trying to show me with that video.

We got our census form, filled out all of the information (Our income is already public info, as is our address) and sent it back all in about two minutes.


avatar lane tobias March 17, 2010 at 11:40 pm

great piece. Ive seen commercials recently that had this, “you need to take the census, because its how somebody figures out how well your streets are going to be maintained, and how nice the paint on your schools will look when summer vacation is over and the kids return, and how your neighborhood will be so enthralled by all the great things that have come because of accurate census taking that everyone will walk out in the street and high five and dance and plan block parties on plastic suburban blocks with strangely plastic looking people” and it actually worked. Of course I was going to do the census, and anyone who has half a brain can figure out why its important….but the people dancing and all that jazz, well, it made me want to be honest! im not really sure why the census needs to have commercials…it was fun though.

all that aside I know plenty of really smart, employable people who didnt get census jobs and some who did that really have no sense of direction – like, north south east west, left right dyslexia – who are going door to door. what a world.


avatar Peyton Farquhar March 18, 2010 at 10:12 am

Does anyone remember the 2000 Census? I do. Now **that** was a breach of privacy. It was ridiculously long. As I recall, it spanned approximately ten pages and the data sought was extremely intrusive. It was more akin to a marketing survey than a headcount for political representation. There was a lot of backlash from privacy advocates to the extent where the feds imposed fines/penalties if you sent back the form without having answered each and every question.

I’d like to think that perhaps this is where the current conspiracy theories originated, but it’s probably a lot more accurate to say that it’s just the reich wing tossing out red meat to its knuckle dragging constituency…the ones that are in the same boat as anyone else with a job earning under $250k/yr. but who are so completely blind/stupid vote against their own financial/political best interests every time.


avatar JMW March 18, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Hi, Doug. Really funny. Those nasty Canucks will probably try to make us drink Moosehead, too.


avatar bodysurferbob March 19, 2010 at 10:29 am

Yeah, those nasty and crazy canucks have a much better health care system than we do.


avatar robert March 19, 2010 at 10:16 am

Your income is not “public” info


avatar oBak March 19, 2010 at 10:44 am

As employees of the state, ours is.


avatar annagrace March 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Ah the census. Christopher Walken does it right…..


avatar Chris Moore March 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I loved that skit, thanks for posting it :)


avatar Larry OB March 19, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Most likely the GPS data is for GIS (geographic information systems)…essentially the mapping of data. It’s not automatically sinister, but I still think there’s the potential it could be misused. Personally I think even the short form is intrusive. It’s not 1790 anymore. Women and people of all races can vote nowadays. Uncle Sam doesn’t need to know race and sex to divide up congressional districts.

My other beef is the cost of the census. We should be doing this far cheaper with the internet. Uncle Sam can crosscheck the data from other sources, like the DMV, IRS, schools, voter registration, etc.


avatar katz April 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Ha, I worked for the census and they had my name wrong in multiple ways. It was my maiden name. And it was misspelled.

Larry OB: Nuh uh. Do you want hackers messing with the census?


avatar Larry OB April 13, 2010 at 10:16 pm

No, not really, but what if they did? For example…suddenly Oklahoma jumps from five congressional districts to eight. Big red flag. It would get a closer look.

My beef is that the government already has my name and address from several different sources. Paying the census folks to ask me again for the same information is like paying a painter to paint your house the same color three or four times during the same year.


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