Ryan Slabaugh: Knock knock. Who’s there? Census 2010
December 4, 2008
If you want job security, the U.S. Census Bureau is hiring. In what might be the only guaranteed job in America (barring you don’t show up in a Che Guevara T-shirt), the government promises good work to those who don’t mind going door-to-door to interrupt our dinners, or Wheel of Fortune, or both.
The census committee, which will unleash its army of door-knockers this month, recently met with Congress to discuss the upcoming assault. The first step, reported Bureau Chief Steve H. Murdock, has been completed: counting the steps it takes to do a census. In Murdock’s introduction to the congressional committee, he so un-elegantly said, “The schedule itself tracks over 11,000 distinct activities, some of which summarize bundles of additional sub-activities.” (I advise everyone to steal this line the next time your boss asks what took so long to get a project done. “It was the bundles of additional sub-activities,” I hear you saying.)
The census, which will cost $14 billion, will be incorporating a combination of old technology “-notepads with boxes to check “-and new technology “-handheld computers that program information to correspond to GPS coordinates ” to give us a better picture of ourselves, a numerical picture, an if-you-stare-long-enough-at-it-a-scooner-will-appear picture. This “image” of data will then be scoured and picked and run through code-detection programs, mainly to allow corporations to finally figure out if there is any way ” any way at all ” the increase in El Salvadoran immigrants corresponds to an uptick in the country’s grape jelly consumption.
The census, which is constitutionally mandated (how’s that for job security!), was going completely digital ” handhelds at every door ” but that got changed. The glitch was a true governmentism, noted by the same congressional committee, which found the handheld computers were scheduled to be rolled out in February 2009, more than three months after the canvassing was scheduled to begin. This year, if you’ll excuse the term, only some of us will be inputted.
If you want to read the report “-it’s called “Bureau Has Taken Important Steps in Planning for a Paper-based Nonresponse Follow-up Operation, But Much Remains Uncertain” ” you will learn about the government’s opinion that the census workers will not be able to use such technology in a reliable fashion.
We wonder, then, if all this really equivocates to a workforce impossibility or, instead, to an engineering shortcoming. Under a different scenario, Apple unleashes 200 million iPods and we all suddenly seem to be downloading books from a library in Singapore while we sip latte in a West Shore cafe. Blackberry teaches a few million of us how to type on a 3-inch keyboard and use miniature computers. Nearly 100 million voted on an electronic machine in early November. And so on. Was the government too busy licking envelopes to notice?
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And unfortunately, the technology distraction has deflated the real census argument “-to devalue race. Race data causes the biggest misunderstandings in America, the most harm in America, and automatically creates tension among those who believe America should be only white and Christian.
There is good scientific argument as well to eliminate racial questions from the census, as a few outdated practices have eliminated any numerical basis for a historical comparison. For example:
In 1890, the census asked blacks to identify their status as “mulattos,” “quadroons,” or “octoroons.”
In 1940, Indians were assumed to be white.
In 2000, more people identified their ethnic background as simply “American” or “U.S.,” than ever, or at least since the Census Bureau began asking the question in 1980.
So let’s throw it out. Or, let’s all tell the census we’re “American.” Or, maybe, just maybe, the data we’ve been giving to iTunes, Facebook, Yahoo, Google and MySpace the past few years already tells us everything we need to know.