Wednesday, January 23, 2008

American Community Survey Update!

Monica was just asking me the other day if I'd heard anything from them. I was beginning to get a little suspicious that I hadn't received anything else in the mail, honestly. But a brand new survey arrived for us yesterday! I guess they might have been a bit backed up from the holidays.

I was expecting at least one more survey in the mail because of what some other kind souls who have been through this already took the time to write about in my comments section here and here. (Thank you!)

If the process happens for me as it has for them, we will shortly be getting lots and lots of phone calls. Hooray for Caller ID! Don't worry--I plan to keep a record of how many calls we get and I will of course keep you updated. The Census Bureau Peopleguys don't know that we don't have a phone in our bedroom, so those annoying 11pm phone calls will just be a particular waste of their time. Good.

I'm very glad that they sent another complete survey, since we trashed the first one we received before I had the brilliant idea to write about this on my blog. So now I can give you some (okay, most) of the questions that are asked. (Most of them are paraphrased, but some direct quotations are indicated appropriately. All emphasis is added. Snarks free of charge, as usual!)

Firstly, though, this survey arrived with a cover letter from Charles Louis Kincannon, Census Bureau Peopleguy Extraordinaire. It begins:

About three weeks ago, the US Census Bureau sent an American Community Survey questionnaire to your address. I asked you to help us with this very important survey by completing it and mailing it back. But, we have not received it yet.

I mean, he asked us very nicely for our help. Ordered us, more like, since they make no effort to hide the fact that our "help" is required by law.

. . . This survey is so important that a Census Bureau representative may attempt to contact you by telephone or personal visit if we do not receive your questionnaire.

May attempt to contact us? We should only be so lucky if we fall through the cracks. I dare not hope.

The letter goes on to explain why this should be important to me (hospitals, schools, etc.). I think I covered this enough in my original post that I will not bother making those points again. Except to say that I haven't changed my mind. Oh, and to mention that EVEN IF it was the government's role to "provide" such things--what in the world does/should the Federal government have to do with it?

And no communique´ from the Census Bureau is complete without this reminder:

The Census Bureau chose your address, not you personally, as part of a randomly selected sample. You are required by US law to respond to this survey. The Census Bureau is required by US law to keep your answers confidential.

Also, did you know that the US Census Bureau's slogan is: "Helping You Make Informed Decisions?" Really? I think that's hysterical! Nothing I have seen yet suggests that I personally am going to have access to the information collected and be allowed to use it to make decisions. (Nor do I think I should be, of course.) I do not think that the Census Bureau is using the word "you" in its conventional sense. Maybe they got the idea from Bill Clinton and his not knowing the definition of the word "is."

But let's get into the survey, shall we? Because that's way funnier than the cover letter.

Here are most of the things they wish to know, in order to Help Me Make Informed Decisions. You will get a sense of how very inappropriate and intrusive this survey really is. Also, it's supposed to take me about 38 minutes to complete. It takes even less time to toss it in the trash. It took me slightly more time to write this post (even with kid-related interruptions which are ever-present). But that's okay--because writing this post is something I choose to do and protesting this nonsense is an infinitely better use of my time than completing the survey.

Name, Address, Phone Number.
Even though we haven't been selected personally, they need this information.

Information for each person in the house, including the children:

  • First Name, Last Name, MI. (But really, it's nothing personal! Just our address, see?)
  • Relation to Person 1 (Person 1 is the person completing the survey).
  • Gender.
  • Age and Date of Birth. (Why both?)
  • Race.
  • Hispanic Origin (Y/N).

Housing Questions:
  • Kind of home.
  • Do we have a boat or RV? Errr?
  • Year Home Built.
  • When did we move in?
  • How many acres?
  • This one is interesting: "In the past 12 months, what were the actual sales of all agricultural products from this property?" Brendan wanted to know if that included illegal agricultural products (which we don't do, simply a musing!). I want to know if that includes things like mold, mildew, weeds and kudzu, which seem to be some of the few plant life-forms that I can grow effortlessly. Man, if I could only sell some of that kudzu!
  • Is there a business on the property?
  • How many rooms in the home?
  • How many bedrooms?
  • Do we have hot and cold running water? That answer might be different in the near future if we can't get a handle on our water situation in Georgia.
  • A flush toilet?
  • A bathtub or shower? Naaahh...we just use the toilet.
  • A sink with a faucet? See above.
  • A stove or range?
  • A refrigerator?
  • Telephone service with both incoming and outgoing capabilities? Uh, Census Bureau Peopleguys--we only have outgoing calls on our phone, honest! So, no need to call us!
  • How many cars?
  • How do we heat the house?
  • How much do we pay annually for gas, oil, coal, kerosene, wood and/or electricity?
  • How much is water/sewer? Included in rent?
  • Do we use Food Stamps?
  • If a condo, what is the condo fee?
  • Do we own the home free and clear or do we have a mortgage? The choices include: Owned with mortgage or loan, Owned free and clear, Rented, or--my favorite--Occupied without payment of rent? What an answer! Oh--at first I was thinking "squatters" but then Brendan pointed out that final answer would be for the kids. Hmmm...think we need to start charging them, don't you? Because they are definitely squatting.
  • What is the value of the home?
  • What are our property taxes?
  • How much is our insurance?
  • What is our mortgage payment?
  • Does our mortgage payment include property taxes and insurance?
  • Do we have a second mortgage and what is the payment?

Back to the People in the Home (at 4 pages per Person):
  • Where was Person X born?
  • US Citizen?
  • "At any time in the last 3 months, has this person attended school or college? Include only nursery or preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, home school, and schooling which leads to a high school diploma or a college degree." At least home school is valid. That's interesting.
  • What grade was Person X in?
  • What's the highest level of school completed?
  • Ancestry/Ethnic Origin.
  • What languages are spoken in the home?
  • Did this person live in the home 1 year ago?
  • If not, what was their previous address? List the full street address! No, really!
  • What kind of health insurance does this person have?
  • Is Person X deaf or blind?
If Person X is over 5 years of age:
  • "Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?" Does pregnancy count? Being a child? If so, then we have A LOT of that going on around here.
  • Does Person X have trouble climbing stairs or walking or dressing or bathing? What if I'm drunk?
If Person X is over 15 years of age:
  • "Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor's office or shopping?"
  • Marital status.
  • Did Person X get married, divorced, or widowed in the last year?
  • How many times has the person been married?
  • In what year did Person X get married? All of the above questions are seriously nobody's business. Honestly.
If Person X is a female between the ages of 15 and 50:
  • Did Person X have a baby in the last year? See above. Also, what if I'm 14? Or 51?

All Persons:

  • Does Person X have any grandchildren living in the home?
  • How long?
  • Has Person X served in the Armed Forces?
  • When?
  • VA Disabled?
  • What percentage disability?
  • "Last week, did this person work for pay at a job (or business)?"
  • At what location did Person X work?
  • Give the street address. Nothing personal.
  • How did Person X get to work last week?
  • How many people carpooled with Person X last week?
  • What time did Person X leave for work? Give exact time of day!
  • How many minutes did it take? What if it takes 24.5 minutes? Help!
  • Is this person currently laid off from work or temporarily absent?
  • Is there a date to restart work in the next 6 months?
  • Actively looking for work?
  • Could Person X have started a new job last week if offered? What are they getting at?
  • Did Person X work 50 or more of the last 52 weeks?
  • How many hours per week did Person X work?
  • What kind of employee is Person X (work for Private For Profit, Private Not for Profit, Self-Employed, etc.)?
  • Name of company, business, or other employer. Again, none of this is "personal!" Riiigght.
  • What industry is the business in?
  • What kind of work was Person X doing? What, are they doing my resume? Sheesh!
  • Person X's most important duties at work? See above.
  • Income in last 12 months (itemized as: wages, self-employment, farm, rental income, dividends, interest, Social Security, SSI, Railroad Retirement, Welfare, Retirement or other pension, VA payments, alimony, child support, and more!).
  • And a special box for the grand total at the end!

Don't forget, each question must be answered all over again for each person in the house.

Well now, after I wrote all that, I found a link on the ACS site where you can look at it yourself. Oh well--more fun to snark it!

One thing I'm wondering about is how the ACS has changed over the years. I suspect that each new version asks more questions. I expect that more detailed questions about the health status of each individual will be included in the upcoming editions, along with questions about how much their health insurance costs and their out-of-pocket expenses. These questions are conspicuously absent from the current questionnaire.

I hope you can clearly see how inappropriate these questions are. Nobody--not even Peopleguys from the Government--has a right to this information about me, my husband, and my children. It is none of their business if I had a baby last year or how long it took Brendan to get to work or how much our electricity bill is. NONE.

As a reminder, Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution states:

The actual Enumeration [of Representatives] shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

That is the only justification for a Census Bureau. It should be dissolved after the decennial numbers are compiled and provided to the states and then reconvened in time to start the next decennial census. Sadly, we have deviated from this original purpose.

I have not changed my resolve in this matter. The US Census Bureau will have to help someone make informed decisions without MY information. I'll keep you updated on their efforts to extract said information from our household. Remember--it's nothing personal.


Susan said...

Good for you! This stuff is never-ending and the only deterrence to it are people like you. Thanks!

Rational Jenn said...

I appreciate your support! You're right--if nobody objects, they'll just keep going and going. Well, they might do that anyway, but the more people who speak up, the more difficult it might be for them!

Anonymous said...

We're at the stage where we are getting home visits. One Sunday and one Monday. Darn, we don't open the door to strangers. Poor guy!

No, they are not entitled to any of my information either. This is NUTS!

Anonymous said...

I read the form. On the back it says respondents are not required to respond to any information collection unless the valid 8 digit number appears. That number only appears on page 1 and that is the only page I filled out. I figure that 8 digit number should be after each question or at least at the bottom of each page.

Rational Jenn said...

Hi Anon! Thanks for stopping by.

I see the wording on the back and it seems as if the sentence "This 8-digit number appears in the bottom right on the front cover of this form." is meant to convey that it is only supposed to appear once on the form.

Really, my objections are more fundamental than that--that this is NOT a census year, that this form constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure of my personal information (not a lawyer, just making a pithy comment), and that they are trying to scare people into compliance with this $5000 fine which they have never once levied on anyone. I urge everyone who receives this not to fill out a single part of it!


Daryl Cobranchi said...

I got the long census form back in 2000. I filled out page 1-- How many people live in the house. I figure that was all the info they needed for the apportioning representatives. They showed up at my doorstep a month or two later. I politely told them that I refused to answer any more questions. After a bit of whining, she left. And that was the last I heard from them.

Several years later I got the ACS. It went straight into the trash.

Rational Jenn said...

Daryl--Awesome! More people need to do the same thing. I have no problem letting them know how many people live in the home--provided it's a census year of course. But honestly, plumbing?

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I received this POS addressed to resident, after noting the threats for non-compliance i filled most of it out. After thinking about all the personal info I thought hell no! No one including the government is going to get this much info about me. I put the darn thing through my shredder.
My razor and toothbrush are packed if they want to jail me.