A few thoughts on the recent Census-worker killing

>> Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I made this comment on someone else's blog, and then realized I should really put it on my own.

Here it is, with some slight modifications:

One thing that wasn't mentioned in the news articles about this was that the guy was working on the American Community Survey (ACS). He wasn't doing work on the 2010 Census. (Not that it makes his killing any less excusable.)

The ACS was created after the 2000 Census so that the in-depth demographic questions would be answered on that survey rather than on the regular census. Also, it tracks demographic questions each year so that the US can find out what is happening to poverty rates, federal funding and such more quickly than waiting every 10 years for the census to be completed.

Whomever this census worker was visiting had received a notice in the mail that they were selected for the ACS, received the original ACS form in the mail, didn't return it, received a second form three weeks after the original form, received phone calls in an attempt to gather the info over the phone, and then, in a final attempt, the census worker went out to this neighborhood. It's not like the census worker showed up in that neighborhood out of the blue. They knew in all likelihood that census person would be coming to their door.

And yes, killing a census worker, who is a federal employee, is punishable by the death penalty.

An anonymous (@ 4:20) commenter:

I went out to talk to her and she behaved very strangely, finally she said she was part of the new census and they'd been told to use GPS tracking devices (she showed hers to me, a little handheld thing) to get an exact GPS coordinates reading on every front door in the country. That's the only data she was collecting at this time.

Freaked me the hell out. Someone has an exact set of coordinates for my front door? Why? Why would this info be needed?
You can't see actual "coordinates" on the hand-held computer on the GPS function for those who were doing address canvassing for the 2010 census. GPS was represented graphically on a map.
"Why would this information be needed?"
To place you geographically within an area. The Census doesn't list the information it gathers and gives to states (for redistricting) and the federal government with your address on it. The Census geographically divides all states into "areas." Then those "areas" are divided into "blocks." Information submitted on the census forms and surveys is given out at the "area" level. (I'm not sure if it is given out at the "block" level.) Essentially, for example, those involved in state redistricting would see information on a map that told them X number of people live in area 100 and Y number of people live in area 101, etc.

In the past they used to do this with paper maps. The address canvassers in the year previous to the census would mark an address on the "block" or "area" map, which was a paper map, number it and assign that number to the address on the paper forms. What is now being done by computer isn't much different from what was done by hand.

The Census is not allowed by law to share anything about your personal information or residence. The same cannot be said for Google Maps, which already has a picture of your house online, and isn't accountable by federal law for making it easy to find you when someone types your address in the search field.


Janel B 24 September, 2009 20:29  

While it's certainly possible he was working on ACS, you can't say that with certainty. Due to the confidential nature of the surveys collected, it will not be published what survey he was working on at that moment, and there are MANY surveys that Census collects.

House of Brat 24 September, 2009 20:37  

Yeah, I forgot to insert "probably" in that sentence. It is, however, the most likely survey he would have been working on given how large it is and that he was found in a residential area, not a business district.

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