Monday, April 02, 2007

OK, I'll tell you, but I wish you hadn't asked

My taxes are done, thank goodness. Completing the tax forms wasn't difficult. Rounding up all the records I needed was a greater challenge. I knew exactly where everything was supposed to be, but I'm not conscientious enough about putting every piece of paper in its designated place. I had a little stack of papers here, a little stack there, here a stack, there a stack...well, you get the idea. In fact, I found one small pile of receipts in a basket underneath my coffee table, stuffed there in the midst of a hasty clean-up. They were in a plastic grocery bag on which I'd carefully printed with a Sharpie marker: THIS IS NOT TRASH!

At least the taxes are done. There's one more piece of government-mandated paperwork I have to finish, then I can file all my receipts away again.

Have you ever heard of the American Community Survey? It's put out by the U.S. Census Bureau, who stated in the letter that accompanied it: "The Census Bureau chose your address, not you personally, as part of a randomly selected sample. You are required by United States law to respond to this survey."

The letter also states: "The information collected in the ACS will help decide where new schools, hospitals, and fire stations are needed. The information also is used to develop programs to reduce traffic congestion, provide job training, and plan for the healthcare needs of the elderly." Those goals seem worthwhile, don't they? Who wouldn't want to help out with that?

On the back of the survey form, the Census Bureau estimates that "for the average household, this form will take 38 minutes to complete. Ha! Maybe I'm not average, but it took me more than 38 minutes to gather up all the receipts I need to answer their questions about earnings and household costs. Questions such as how much my mortgage payment is and how much I spent in the last 12 months on gas, electricity, water, etc. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I've spent hours poring over old census records looking for information on ancestors, so I appreciate the work the Census Bureau does. I totally recognize the need to collect basic information about U.S. citizens. But I can't imagine why it's important for the government or anyone else to know what time I leave for work in the morning and how long it takes me to get there.

Before I started answering the survey questions, I did a little research about it on the Internet. Here's someone who has some concerns about it, and here's a publication that puts the best possible spin on it.

What do you think?


  1. Velvet, The two links lead to the same place...I just think it's a little annoying... good thing you don't have to do it every year.

  2. Thanks, Holly. When I checked the links earlier, the first one worked and the second one didn't. It took two tries to fix it--obviously because I "corrected" the wrong link on my first try. Both work now, and the first one is the most interesting.

  3. In my household we never feel obliged to give all the information that is requested. When very detailed and personal information is requested, we often just write N/A. No one has ever come to ask again for the info.

  4. Annie, that was my first inclination, too--then I started reading about fines imposed for each unanswered question. The questions that concerned me most were the ones that involved other people, such as the name and address of the company I work for. They can get that information off my tax forms, but I don't understand the significance of that question in the survey.

  5. Wow! I've never heard of this. And right now, I don't know how I feel about it. The goals listed, indeed, are worthwhile. And while I was reading this post, I was thinking of other ways, too, that the information could benefit the government in aiding people. But after reading John Whitehead's article, I realized that there were questions I would have to have answered, and that I would need a lot more information - before I could make a decision about how I feel about it. Wow, again! Lots of food for thought, Velvet.

  6. Scary stuff. I don't think I would be so worried if we weren't living under a regime that tossed civil rights out the window so readily.

    I think my husband filled out one of these a couple of years back. They actually called to clarify some answers about my daughter who was away at college. So, now, really scary, because someone's actually READING these things!

    So how do they know if you're lying? Like if they ask you what time you leave for work - does that include stopping for a coffee, or not? Unbelievable.

  7. Jackie, I wanted more information, too, so I didn't send it in right away. In the meantime, they sent me a follow-up letter and two more copies of the survey. From what I've read online, the next step would be a visit to my house. I didn't like the idea of some poor census worker having to fend off my dogs while I searched for old utilities receipts, so I decided to bite the bullet and go ahead and do it.

    Sunflower, you're right about the current administration's disregard for civil rights. That's probably why they feel free to ask some of the more intrusive questions, and it's definitely why I feel uncomfortable answering them. I love the good ol' US of A, and it saddens me to realize that my trust in our government is at an all-time low.

  8. Velvet, After reading Whitehead's article, I think we all need to write our Congressmen / Senators. Holly

  9. I never heard of this-this is downright scary, especially when you hear pretty frequently about yet another government agency losing laptops filled with citizen information, or missing computers in offices. The only assurance they can give that your information is "safe" is that they will impose a heavy fine and/or imprisonment on any Census Bureau worker who leaks the information, but doesn't say what happens if this info gets hacked.

  10. I hadn't heard of this.

    As someone who does genealogy research, I have a great appreciation for census data. However, the census data I'm interested in is at least 100 years old, and I'm not a Neocon. Maybe if life on earth lasts another 100 years, answers to the questions you're being asked will be of interest.

    That said, I don't think I would answer the questionaire. I don't know how I'd get around it, but it certainly sounds as though many of the questions being asked go too far into matters that ought to be nobody else's business. Maybe - as Annie suggested - the N/A answer is the best way.

    We are living under a regime that has no respect for the rule of law, and throughout history that has been a prerequisite to discrimination and genocide. Remember, "If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists." Using that logic, your friend are also guilty. It's a slippery slope.

    I think you have good reason to be concerned.

  11. I googled American Community Survey. Here's one site worth looking at.

  12. i am sure only good could come from answering these questions. how could anyone think other wise.

  13. I am positively squirrelly about my own privacy. I haven’t participated in a census since 1970.

    My alarms scream if I am asked a question about my schedule. Because of the possibility of sexual assault for women at home alone, I never say. Having information what time you leave and when you regularly return is perfect for thieves.

    Civil liberties aside, and I think it's insane to ever put 4th Amendment issues aside, I don't understand the need for some of this information. As for the legal requirement to respond – I can’t imagine that it's enforced. I can’t see how a requirement to respond could be legally enforced when the "Census Bureau chose your address, not you personally". And who would enforce it? Federal prosecutors & the FBI?

  14. Creekhiker, I wish I thought writing our congressmen would make a difference, but wouldn't they have already had to approve this somewhere along the way?

    Janet, I share your concern about all the computers and data the Census Bureau has already lost.

    Wiz, the site you linked to is REALLY SCARY! I guess there are jerks in every profession, but some of the census takers described here were way out of bounds in my opinion.

    Patsy, do I detect a little sarcasm there? :-)

    Third-Cat, I read on one of the ACS sites that the question about what time the survey respondent leaves for work is to help local business owners determine what hours they should be open to best serve their customers. What BS!

    Having mellowed in my old age (translation: I'm too tired to put up a battle), I went ahead and mailed it off. As I licked the envelope, it occurred to me that they have all the information they need about me now: the answers to all their questions and a tidy sample of my DNA.


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