Post #606: US Census: If you’ve gotten “the postcard”, you’re being unhelpful

Posted on April 7, 2020

Look familiar?  If so, you’re being a bad person.

We have all gotten our notices in the mail by now requesting that we get on-line and fill in the US Census.  I’ve neglected mine.  Which is kind of horrifying, considering that I’ve actually done a bit of survey work professionally. And used the Census data professionally.

When I finally got “the postcard”, I knew I was being a bad actor.  Assuming that Census does this in a standard manner, getting “the postcard” is a mark of shame.  So it was time to fill in the Census.  Which I have now done.

I timed it.  It took me 10 minutes, for the four people in my household.  Which is typical.  But I messed something up, so I thought I might mention that.

The plain language of the Census form says to count all individuals who were staying in your house on April 1.  But that’s not correct.  If you have a child who was supposed to be away at college on April 1, you are NOT supposed to report them as living in your household in April 1.  Even though they were.  They will be counted as they usually are, in their respective college towns.

Here’s a link go the US Census page on that.

Unsurprisingly, the last question specifically addresses that.  Census gives you the opportunity to flag that college student, so that Census can (somehow) identify them based on some college reporting them.  Presumably, because Census will find a person with my daughter’s exact name and date of birth, at some college near to my home, they’ll take her off of the count for my household, and retain it on the count for the college.

Now let me explain the postcard of shame.  I’m assuming Census uses standard survey protocols.  Typically, in a mail survey, you’ll get a first notice in the form of a full letter.  If you don’t fill it in, there will be a followup in the form of a short letter, saying, in effect, please read the prior letter.

But only the truly uncooperative get the postcard.  The postcard is typically used for the second followup.  The practical reason for using a postcard for second followup is that, by that time, you’re not worth the price of a first-class stamp.  If you’ve been enough of a jerk as to ignore the first and second notices to do what you are legally obligated to do, chances are you aren’t going to cooperate no matter what.

In other words, by the time you get to second followup, the likely yield is so low that you’re practically just not worth bothering with.  But it’s still cheaper than having to send out the paper-copy Census form.

And vastly cheaper than having in-person followup, which I’m not even sure they are going to be able to do this time.  Census taker was always a somewhat hazardous occupation.  Now, it’s not even clear they are or should send people door-to-door, to deal with the least-cooperative people among us.

The upshot is that the US Census is among the many things that COVID-19 has scrambled.  It’s a pretty good guess that a lot of people are not going to be counted.  Do your part to fix that.  Get on line and fill out your Census form today.

Getting our fair share of Federal, state, and local government money — not to mention our seats in the U.S. House of Representatives — all depend on that Census count.  The information they ask for is minimal.  Name, date of birth, sex and race/national origin for every person in the household.  And do you own or rent the place where you live.  That’s it.  Get it done.