An important point

>> Sunday, October 4, 2009

Newsweek makes an important point:

Then there is the conservative blogosphere, which has been questioning the census since Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed that she would not complete her census form. While on Glenn Beck's show, she pointed out that, among other things, census information was used against Japanese-Americans during World War II to round them up in internment camps. "Americans were told they wouldn't have their information used against them. They did." Beck, on the other hand, worried that if he didn't fill out his form, the government might use that "as a loophole" to say he could no longer have a permit for a gun. His concerns seem unfounded, as the census has never been used for verifying gun licenses and Bachmann apparently isn't worried that dodging the census will endanger her Second Amendment rights either. According to her spokeswoman, Bachmann is still only going to answer one question on the form: the number of people living in her household, which she argues is the only response required by the Constitution. In fact, the Constitution says nothing about whether an individual must answer the census, only that Congress must make a count in the manner it sees fit.
That last part is what people misunderstand about the census. Here is the actual text regarding the census from Article 1 Section 2:
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 chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pensylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.
"...in such a Manner as they shall by Law direct." That means that Congress is entitled to ask whether you have indoor plumbing, what your income is, etc. All the questions on a census form are approved by Congress. Every one of them has a specific purpose such as fulfilling requirements of the Voting Rights Act or determining where the Veterans Administration needs to put more VA hospitals. These questions aren't random.

But some people want to make a hoopla where there is none.

Such as outright fear-mongering regarding the census like Kris Kobach and Ed Martin at the "How to Take Back America" conference recently.

Guns? Extensive forms? These two men are either a) speaking out of sheer ignorance, b) regurgitating what they've heard on the internet or radio, or c) lying.

Anyone can look at the 2010 Census form online (here). There are NO questions pertaining to guns/firearms. The 2010 Census form is the also shortest form in recent history. Everyone will get the same "short" form. There is no "long" form as there was in 2000 and earlier.

But this hasn't stopped people spreading misinformation/lies such as this caller to NPR's "Talk of the Nation" program.
BOB (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

BOB: I remember during the 2000 census that I was sent a form, and they wanted to know if I had any guns, how many and in what rooms of the house I kept them in. And I found that that was well outside the scope of the census. I understand we need the information, and I'm no pro-gun crazy nut or anything like that, but I just twinged, you know, when I read that. And I'll just listen -take the response to that on the radio.

CONAN: Okay, Bob. Thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it. And that was part of a - well, I guess controversial long-form questionnaire that was sent out in 2000.

Prof. SURO: Yeah, I don't believe it was. I'll double-check, but I'm 99 percent sure the long form asked about a lot of things, including indoor plumbing and how long it takes you to commute to work, but I don't believe it asks whether you have firearms or where they're kept. In fact, you know, nobody really knows exactly how many firearms there are in the United States. But I think Bob may have gotten a form from somebody else.

CONAN: Somebody maybe trying to be provocative.

Prof. SURO: Perhaps.

CONAN: Okay. There are also, from time to time, the census does send out other kinds of inquiries. Might that have been part of it?

Prof. SURO: Not that I'm familiar with.

CONAN: Okay. All right. And that census, though, the long-form census in 2000 was controversial because a lot of people thought, well, for one thing, it took a lot of time to answer the questions.

Prof. SURO: Yeah, and it's been revised for about - going back to 1940, the federal government had this extra sample. In 2000, it was about 18 million households, which got this much lengthier questionnaire with very detailed questions aimed at information required by specific government programs: your veteran status, as I said your household plumbing, commutes to work, all kinds of matters.

That's now been dropped. And since 2000, the census has been involved in a continuous survey of about two million interviews a year, called the American Community Survey, with basically the same questions that used to be on the long form of the census. And that compiles results over time. The survey is conducted in every county of the country every year, and they're accumulated to produce the kind of detailed data that the long form used to produce.

CONAN: So a statistical survey of statistically significant analysis, that sort of thing.

Prof. SURO: Yes. Exactly.
An example of the 2000 Census "long" form can be viewed here (pdf). Anyone stating that the 2000 Census asked about guns and where you keep them in your house is either confusing the census with another survey or lying.

There are a lot of people lying about what is on the 2010 Census form and what the government does with the information. They are fomenting an atmosphere of fear and resentment. Given all the small ripples being made now about the census, I can't imagine it's going to get any better next year when the census is actually conducted.

These people are hanging census workers out to dry.

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