A Postcard From Your Census Taker

2020 Census Form

Question #1 was all that mattered. All else was elaboration.

Greetings!

So last year, 2020 in case you forgot, with nothing else to do because the pandemic had cancelled all my regular work and with a desire to do what small part I could to help our country, I agreed to work for the US Census Bureau as a Census Enumerator. That means I, like thousands of others across the country, would go out to the homes of people who had not sent back the Census form delivered to them in the mail or hadn’t gone online to the Census website to fill out the form and get the information needed.

From my experience I’ve got one thing to say about the results of the 2020 Census:

It’s wrong.

It’s wrong because there was no way this census, under these circumstances, could be right. The circumstances I mean were not just those emblematic of the pandemic but the ones that were deliberately installed in order to insure a miscounting of the American population.

And imagine that, the results come in and major blue states lost congressional seats while major red states gained seats. That is not the end result of migratory patterns of older citizens moving to warmer climes or younger ones moving to find new work opportunities. That is the end result of a deliberate misuse of the system by one political party in it’s never ending attempts to game the system in order to win elections and control the federal government.

The census should have been put off till the pandemic was over. Yes I know, the census is written into the Constitution and not doing it in 2020 might have brought on, well let’s call it a constitutional contretemps, I don’t think it would have qualified as a crisis. Here it is in black and white, figuratively and literally from Article One, Section Two:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration 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. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to choose three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight,
Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

If the timing would have been constitutionally suspect my reply would be that in the same paragraph enumerating the every ten years it also says to only count free persons, no Native Americans, and all other persons (in other words black slaves) as three fifths. The 14th amendment did away with the three fifths, but kept the no Native Americans. Yet we now count Native Americans because of a 1940 decision by the Census Bureau to include them. If the Bureau could do that in 1940 they certainly could have done away this one time with a dictate as to the count being every ten years.

I’d also point out that if we stuck to the one representative for every 30,000 people Congress would currently have nearly 11,000 members. Rhode Island and Providence Plantations alone would have 35 representatives.

Obviously no one could have predicted a world wide pandemic, but the works started being gummed up once Repugnicants took over the executive branch in 2017. Trump attempted to add a citizenship question to the form and failed, but his taking a court case all the way to the Supremes cost the Bureau time and effort that should have been allocated to the basic functioning of the census.

Then there was the on again, off again conflict over when the actual work would begin. Enumerators were supposed to begin the door to door canvas in April. Because of COVID it was pushed back to May. Then June. Then July. We finally began training in early August.  My first day out in the field was August 9. Meanwhile the deadline for finishing, October 31, was not pushed out. So a six month process was shoehorned into three months.

Then Trump announced he wanted the count stopped at the end of September. No reason, he just figured the less time we had the more inaccurate the count would be. Court cases ensued. From the middle of September right up to the end of the month we didn’t know if we would have a job the next day. October 5th became the cutoff, but that was hazy. The final day of counting eventually became October 15.

I’m proud to say my team got our job done, but to be fair our job was relatively easy compared to others. Sonoma did a remarkable job getting forms mailed in or filled out online. In fact on the day we started, a little over 80% had already been turned in. The remaining 20% were a mixed bag of vacation homes, empty fields, vineyards, folks who forgot to send the form in, and a few crackpots, both conservative and liberal, who didn’t want “the man” to have their information.

Just want to say right here that those crackpots inevitably had full Facebook profiles open to the public that gave way more information about themselves than anything we were asking for. Too bad we couldn’t use that.

Oh yes, one of the other ways Trump’s minions attempted to thwart an accurate count was to forbid using the internet for any information gathering. Even though five minutes on the web could give me the names, numbers, and ages of the occupants of any address (or if indeed that address was a residence) it was forbidden, in fact a dismissible offense, to use the tool you’re reading this on right now. Talk about luddite.

But most insidiously there was very little public education about the census. The number of public service announcements about filling out the form were tiny compared to previous years. Most of those commercials were aired at odd times and on networks whose viewership was already pre-disposed to having done the census. Running PSA’s for the census during Rachel Maddow’s show is the proverbial coals to Newcastle. Those ads should have been running during every NFL timeout, every cliffhanger SVU break, every commercial segment of Sabado Gigante, every cut away reveal of the finished house or baked goods, and they should have been detailed explanations of just what the purpose of the census was and how it would benefit the viewer and their community directly.

Instead we got crickets chirping in the night.

In theory the Bureau made this year’s census the easiest ever to do. Open up your phone, go to the website and input the info. Done. Instead the Trump administration gummed up the works and then made little attempt to get the public to do the survey. Those orders had to come from the top. If I were a Bureau lifer I would be appalled at the way political appointees turned what should have been a few moments of civic engagement into yet another symbol of us versus them.

Hashtag it. #ProperCensusNow

Shapiro Out

4 thoughts on “A Postcard From Your Census Taker

  1. betseysha says:

    What he said. I was an enumerator as well. Oh I got stories. Every day was a new cluster.

  2. Ten Bears says:

    From memory ~ what are we gonna’ do when Uncle Samuel comes around, asking for the young boy’s name; lookin’ for the print of his hand, for the files in their numbers game? I don’t want his chances for freedom to ever be that slim, let’s not tell ’em about him … Paul Kantner’s Jefferson Starship, Blows Against the Empire 1969.

    “… and a few crackpots, both conservative and liberal.” Sounds like you’re too far out of Silicon Valley for it but so much of that particular brand of anti-vaxxing actually dates to the sixties, and I’m just a little bit embarrassed by that. I’ve often wondered how many kids that came out of that whirlwind had trouble getting into school and stuff later. I know of one.

    Like I said, just a tad embarrassed …

  3. Helaine Forte says:

    Well said Mike.

  4. Robin Perry says:

    Well written Mike. Thanks for sharing. Will have to catch up on your other blogs.

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