I received a letter from the United States Census Bureau the other day, about how my address had been randomly selected to take the American Community Survey. Oh joy.
In the handy pamphlet of FAQ’s under, “Do I have to answer the questions on the American Community Survey?” I was thrilled to read the answer, “Yes. Your response to this survey is required by law under a random title and code section number we just made up for this pamphlet because no one will respond if we don’t threaten them. Also, there will be penalties and fees.”
“We estimate this survey will take about 40 minutes to complete.”
Then, in various different paragraphs, on various different portions of the pamphlets, letters, and website, they told me these three concerning things:
1. By law, the Census Bureau can only use your responses to produce statistics.
2. We may combine your answers with information that you gave to other agencies to enhance the statistical uses of these data.
3. Use of this system indicates your consent to collection, monitoring, recording, and use of the information that you provide for any lawful government purpose.
So what you are saying, Census Bureau, is that you guys are only allowed to use my answers to produce nationally-vital statistics regarding how many bathrooms are in my house, but you have access to answers I gave other agencies that didn’t make that same promise, and oh, also, anything I tell you can be used for any reason, by any government agency, for anything that someone decided to write on page 16,135 of a 17,000-page bill that you voted into law.
Here’s why that concerns me. You told me this would take forty minutes of my life, but around minute twenty or so you asked me very specific questions about my income. And my wife’s income. And the specific sources of that income. And the specific amounts of income from each of those sources.
In order for me to answer those questions EXACTLY like I did on my taxes, I would have to spend an hour or so going through my last tax return, which would mean it would take me eighty minutes to get to the middle of a forty-minute survey.
So, I guessed.
But here’s the problem. There is one currently lawful government agency in particular that loves exact numbers and loves reported numbers to match up exactly, especially when those numbers have to do with income – The Department of Agriculture.
No wait, it’s the IRS.
Your survey forced me to guess about my income, and you might be sharing those guesses with the IRS? I ask you, Census Bureau workers in charge of the American Community Survey, would you want the IRS seeing your reported income numbers for last year varying from place to place? Do you have any idea what an IRS audit is like? Do you want to go through one?
Not unless you are suicidal, which, now that I think about it could very well be the case since the career path you have chosen ended up at the Census Bureau – the lamest and most boring of all the Bureaus. Chin up.
I may have had more time to dig out my tax return and get the numbers right if y’all could somehow figure out a way to shorten your survey.
I happen to have a few suggestions for you:
You asked about my heritage, to which I answered European. You asked about my wife’s heritage, to which I also answered European because we’re both white and we’re all pretty sure her grandpa was making up the whole “part American Indian” thing just to get a discount on tribal liquor and cigarettes.
Previously, you had asked about our kids and how they came into our family. I responded (individually for all three) that they were natural-born children between me and my wife. You then later asked (individually for all three) about their heritage. That question seemed entirely unnecessary given my earlier answers, but since you gave me text boxes to complete, I went with Pacific Islander (other), Andalusian, and Guatemalan, in an effort to help them get into college someday.
You told me that my address was selected at random to participate in the survey, then asked me approximately sixty questions about my house, including number of bedrooms, bathrooms, general rooms that were not a foyer or hallway, lot size, year built, what I think it would sell for right now, and on and on. The only thing you didn’t ask about was the color. (It’s beige, by the way, like everything you own, Census Bureau workers.)
Have any of you ever heard of Zillow? You have my address. Just plug it in and you get all the information, and it will all be correct, because I won’t be guessing!
And speaking of information you already have access to, just get my tax return! It has every answer to all your financial questions, all your car questions, the household questions, the employment questions, as well as the questions about whether any of us are deaf or blind.
And speaking of the questions about our physical limitations, I wasn’t really sure how to answer some of those, so I just did my best.
Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does Son Number One have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?
I’m not sure if being fourteen years old qualifies as a physical, mental, or emotion condition, or if it qualifies as all three, but I answered an emphatic yes.
Do you have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?
I’m forty-seven, so this is a definite yes on days I have gone running, but only a “sort of” on most other days. I went with yes.
Does Son Number Three have difficulty dressing or bathing?
You already know he’s eleven years old. Of course he does! All three boys do.
Do you people even have kids? Who wrote these ridiculous questions?
See you soon,
Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen
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