Back in 1970, I was newly married with my Beloved in his last semester of college and I took a job as a census enumerator for the Decennial US Census. My assignment included multiple rural areas in Arkansas and a few small town/suburban areas.
In completing my assignment, I learned a great deal about life in parts of the county vastly different from the city of St. Louis where I’d spent most of my life prior to my marriage. Some of the things I learned were surprising. For instance, many of the rural folks whose homes I visited had yet to experience the pleasure of indoor plumbing.
One lovely woman eagerly invited me into her kitchen where a single spigot was ensconced on a pedestal in the middle of the room. This was her running water (only cold, no hot) and she was absolutely tickled to have that faucet and share her good fortune with me!
At another location, I arrived (in my car) at an address and as I surveyed my surroundings, I noted a man waving frantically at me from his open-door outhouse. When he saw me acknowledge his wave back, he briefly shut the door, completed his business and exited the outhouse. With great eagerness, he hurried my way. (No, I didn’t shake his hand.)
Needless to say, the two or three months I worked as an enumerator were memorable and enlightening! When I’m researching online census records as I work through my genealogy, I’m often reminded of those adventures. In addition to the amusing experiences mentioned above, there were also poignant occasions like the day I knocked on the door of a grieving dad who had just returned from the funeral for his seven-year-old daughter. He sobbed and though I told him I’d return another day, he urged me to complete the questions that day.
Earlier this Spring, my younger daughter received official papers from the US Census Bureau. The imposing envelope is emblazoned with a box on the left side in which these words appear: The American Community Survey, and additionally, in bold caps, Your Response is Required By Law. Naturally, my daughter looked at the calendar which immediately confirmed 2014 is most assuredly not a decennial year. Hmmm!
Truthfully (and I think I’ve admitted this before), I’m a data junkie. Because I have this weakness, there was a time when I was usually the first to fill out surveys, get my information all recorded, be the good (unquestioning) citizen. As much as I’ve used census records in my genealogical research, I’ve considered I’m doing my descendants a good turn by providing them the same opportunity.
Over time, however, my attitude has changed. My daughter’s experience was highly instructive as I witnessed her response to this attempt at bureaucratic intrusion. She steadfastly refused to comply … and the envelope’s dire warning notwithstanding, this is her right to do so. The US Constitution (Article I, Section 2) authorizes a census in years that end in “0.” The Census Bureau recognizes this authority on its website (shown below). Note the sentences I’ve underlined in red.
Earlier this week, my mail included notification from the American Community Survey that my household has been randomly selected to provide personal information about the people living in this domicile! Needless to say, my first response was turning to social media. In brief, my reply went something like this: Dear ACS: Your sister bureaucracy NSA already has this data on file. Ask them and leave me alone!
Today, a larger envelope arrived in the mail.
A Google search yields close to 60 million hits for American Community Survey, many of which are related to US Census and state-related links about the survey. However, a closer look reveals bloggers as far back as 2006 expressing their discontent over this questionable data collection effort. (Scroll down the page of that blogger’s 2006 post and the author provides a host of links.) Another helpful blogger shared her opinion in 2007 and has included later updates as others have contacted her about ACS. Additional posts (NYT, 2012), (Orange County Register, 2013) throw their opinions into the ring as well.
And lest anyone consider my reaction (and those of others) to be simply the right-wing crazies reacting as expected, please feel free to read the musings of not-so-right-wing individuals on the subject posted on DemocraticUnderground.com.
Long ago, my mother told me not to talk to strangers. If someone queried me, when does your daddy get home, little girl? my lips were zipped! If someone asked, how many people live in your home? they weren’t going to find out from me! Why would I share this information with the government … today or ever?!
As one news station explained in their post, the Census Bureau says “all the information you provide is kept confidential. By law, they cannot share individual answers with anyone. They will never ask for sensitive information such as Social Security numbers or credit card numbers.” Am I supposed to lulled into compliance with such assurances?
Over the last decade, how many times has sensitive information (including Social Security and credit card numbers) been heedlessly and carelessly leaked? Further, government employees have repeatedly demonstrated their own irresponsibility when it comes to handling private information. Why would this instance prove any different, I ask you?
At least one source I found (shown above) indicated the ACS was defunded on May 9, 2014. Apparently, this was not final. As with many bureaucratic boondoggles, this feline will likely have way more than nine lives. But here’s the deal: ACS is a huge data-mining operation (recall NSA?) conducted by the US Census Bureau. Its data is disseminated among huge numbers of PRIVATE corporations!
Why should I voluntarily release personal information (such as what time people in my household leave for work in the morning) to the government so they in turn can share the same information to corporations far and wide who wish to market to my household? I’ve gone past my tolerance of being targeted for marketing!
They used to call that MARKET RESEARCH and it was a corporate function with no government involvement! Why not make private corporations once again pay for their own [email protected] market research?!!
No, I will not comply. Send me to jail.