I filled out and returned my census form a couple weeks ago, and if you haven’t filled out yours yet, it’s not too late. In fact, filling out the census form and mailing it back saves the government a considerable amount of money compared to canvassing neighborhoods to get a head count. While filling out the forms, I had two quick impressions of the census:
1. I was quite underwhelmed with the information that the census requested. Perhaps it’s because I’m a single person who is, for the moment, the only person at his residence, but filling out the form took like three minutes. And the information the census requested was quite basic. Compare this year’s census to the 1930 census form for example, which is the most recent census form available to the public (census information is embargoed for 72 years for privacy concerns). The 1930 census asks people for the value of their home, whether they owned a “radio set,” whether their home was a farm, age of first marriage, any college experience, whether they can read or write, their native language, their occupation, and so on. The 2010 was quite simple in comparison. Now some of the deeper questions are taken up by other social surveys of course, but I wonder whether the limited nature of the 2010 census will make it less valuable to future historians and genealogists.
2. I don’t like how this census has been promoted. Back around the Super Bowl, we had those weird Christopher Guest-style ads about taking a “snapshot of America.” Now, perhaps because those ads were universally poorly received, census ads have taken the direct approach: fill out your form so your town gets its fair share of federal goodies. Nothing like appealing to naked self interest to get a response. Would there have been anything wrong with going with a patriotic approach? Fill out your census forms, it’s your patriotic duty! Or maybe a fear campaign with a district-by-district approach: “Fill out your forms or we’ll send ACORN/a Tea Party member to your house!” 🙂