One of life’s mysteries on my mind this week is why so many people are making it so hard and so expensive to get a nose count of how many of us there are in America. More than one in four families have not filled out the short form dealing with some very basic issues.

Now maybe you’re the kind of person who says, “Well, that means just under three out of four did their civic duty so what’s the problem?”

Considering how many ways that vital information is used … amounts of federal money states could receive, the number of congressional representatives we could have, etc. … there are lots of problems.

It doesn’t help to have some congressional idiots telling constituents the census business is a communist plot or worse. One of those has been the clueless Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN). She took to the national airwaves to say she wasn’t sending her form back and no one else should, either.

“The Obama people are trying to find the locations of various ethnic groups so they can be rounded up and sent to internment camps like Japanese Americans in 1942,” said the conspiratorial one.

Later, someone whispered in her ear that knowing how many people there are and where they live is how congressional districts are created. So, if her folks at home didn’t send in their census forms, her job could disappear. Whereupon she filled hers out completely and sent it back.

An accurate census is especially important in our neighborhood. Oregon and other western states are population gainers with more folks moving in than out. As many eastern states have lost population, western states have picked up seats in congress. Accurately keeping track of that ebb and flow is a major use of the census. Good news for us.

There’s also a federal honeypot of some $400 billion that goes to states for various projects in the next few years. Census statistics determine the split of those dollars for all sorts of programs that flow downstream. More good news.

We’re developing a more ethnically diverse population hereabouts. Some federally funded programs are designed to help states deal with that change … schools, job training, etc. … and that can come our way, too … if we’re fully counted. Good news?

Local businesses, using census data, can effectively tailor services and goods delivery if they know who their customers are. For example, in 2008 about 21% of Oregon’s Douglas County population was over age 65 versus a statewide average of about 13%. If you wanted to build a hospital or determine which physician specialties to recruit, that’s good to know.

Median household income in 2008 in the same county was about $39,500 versus $50,000+ in the rest of Oregon. Banks, merchants, homebuilders and their suppliers would like that info. All from the census.

Nobody has given me a valid reason not to participate. Yet I hear people say where they live and with whom is nobody’s business. So they’ve chucked their forms.

It’s interesting that states with highest census form return rates to date are Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana. They’re also at or near the top of the list for highest unemployment. Sounds to me like someone’s been doing a good job of selling the economic benefits of an accurate nose count for some of that expected federal spending. Real job creation.

Some 635,000 census takers are now covering the country trying to find and count those who, for reasons beyond me, haven’t … or won’t … return the forms. Soon their stories will start to be told. One you may have already heard about. Near St. Maries, ID, someone put a shotgun blast over the enumerator’s head. Bad form.

Final fact. Information from the decennial census is confidential. All involved in collecting are sworn to secrecy. No government agency has access to it. Period. There’s lots of case law showing IRS, FBI and other entities have been refused access to data. Only anonymous information is available … statistics, tables, summaries … and only for specific purposes. The expected right to privacy is solidly enforced. You can’t get today’s data for about 70 years!

But the one factually accurate statistic making me maddest is it costs the feds about 42-cents to handle forms mailed back versus about $57 per household to go out and find each one. $57! That’s about $1.5 billion saved if everyone complied by mail, my friend.

I’m currently working on the return failure rate in Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District. Gotta send Michelle a bill for those we have to go find. $57 times ?.

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