The Census: Why You Should Fill It Out

A few days ago driving the miles of dirt from my house to the curvy single laned county road, I found a sweet faced older woman contemplating a hill with dismay.  She rolled down her window and flagged me down.  “Excuse me,” she said, “I’m a census worker.  Do you know where I can find …”  and she named several addresses on my road.

I stared at her in disbelief.

I wanted to exclaim, “Are you crazy?”  When I called several years ago to find out my address from the Humboldt County Agency in charge of that, the clerk whimpered, “I pray to God I retire before we get around to straightening out the addresses there.”  She then let me choose…yes, CHOOSE, my own address.  Which might explain why my address starts in the 3000 block and my neighbor’s starts in the 7000 block.  In other areas, the houses go from 1234 to 1236 on the same side of the road effortlessly.  Or at least the addresses climb higher or descend lower one after the other in a logical sequence.  Here, they bounce.    3245 might be right before 7654 and right after 7559. The UPS doesn’t use them.  The telephone repairman only uses them to humor his corporate entity.  They both use country directions–ie “turn left after the school until you get to the “Y”in the road and take another left”..etc.

The series of numbers the Lost Census Lady gave me were meaningless.  Almost no one bothers posting the addresses because they aren’t in any sensible order.  She did manage to give me the CB handle of one of the addressees and I was able to direct her to that home but the rest were so much Urbanese from the land of Urbanites and  I couldn’t help her.  She told me that she lives near Honeydew and had to drive all the way out here (over an hour and a half drive) to deliver a handful of envelopes before she would run out of time. What a waste of money.

But what will make this even more of a waste of money is if my neighbors throw them out.  I’ve heard several people say that they already did.

Whoa.  Big Mistake.  If you don’t want a census worker coming ’round May through July (which can be an awkward time for some folks) fill that sucker out now and send it in.  When we found a census envelope hanging off a dead fir on our long driveway, we grabbed it up, filled it out (took Kevin about 10 minutes) and sent it back in. (It’s easy.  Look here at the questions.)

Here’s why we filled out the form.

  1. We don’t want no strangers here no how. Seriously, we all in the hills love our privacy.  The best way to keep strangers from wandering the hills looking for some simple answers to some questions is to fill out that form and mail it in.  The census workers don’t come back then.
  2. We want our share of the $400 billion. Federal funds are allocated according to population amounts.  Funds for schools, roads, etc. are based on this information.
  3. We want to be Represented in Congress.How many representatives an area gets in the California Congress and in the National Congress depends on the census data about how many people live where.  This year California might lose a representative and Texas is likely to gain one. This will last til the next census is taken. Thus your census form can affect the future more cextensively than a vote for president can.
  4. We want the Government to waste as little money as possible. It costs big bucks to send a census worker out to ask the same questions that are easily answered on the piece of paper and mailed in. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves said, “Here is something every family can do to help their government save money, and get an accurate Census at the same time. Mailing back your census form when it arrives will contribute to saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars…It’s a lot less expensive to get responses back by mail than it is to send census takers to knock on doors of households that failed to respond….It costs the government just 42 cents for a postage paid envelope when a household mails back the form…It costs $57 to send a census taker door-to-door to follow up with each household that fails to respond.”I’ll bet it costs a lot more than that up in these hills.
  5. It’s Safe! To quote their site, “All census responses are confidential; they are protected by law and not shared with anyone.  By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents’ individually identifiable answers with anyone, including tribal housing authorities, other federal agencies and law enforcement entities. All Census Bureau employees take the oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect the confidentiality of the data. The penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment of up to five years or both.”

Did you already throw away your form? Don’t panic!  On April 9th, new forms will be issued.  You can quickly respond to that one and head off a census worker actually coming down your driveway in May and June.

Did you not get a form but want to be counted? Libraries and post offices will have forms that you can fill out.

If a census worker does show up, what should you do?

  • First ask to see their ID. All census workers carry official government badges marked with just their name; they may also have a “U.S. Census Bureau” bag
  • Note that the census taker will never ask to enter your home
  • If you’re still not certain about their identity, please call the Regional Census Centers to confirm they are employed by the Census Bureau
  • Answer the census form questions for your entire household (you must be at least 15 years old to answer questions) so that the census taker can record the results for submission to the Census Bureau

Census takers visit local homes several times to capture resident information for the 2010 Census. If you prefer, you can schedule a visit with your census taker. Should the census taker come when you are away from your home, they will leave a contact number. If a census taker has not visited your home or you have a question about your participation with the census, call your Census office.

The Census site is full of interesting little facts.You can search for any town or state’s population here.

You can sift through a plethora of Humboldt trivia and not so trivial facts here. Did you know that Humboldt, as of the 2000 census) had an average of 35 people per square mile? That 20% lived below the poverty line? That the average median household income in 2008 was $39,627?

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29 comments

  • Because we had people on our road get three front door visits from the 2010 census crew, we locked our gate. The nice census lady came to a neighbor who named the names of her neighbors on our road. So we all got them on our gate. We all comply just as we did ten years ago. We think Census 2010 is over and unlock our gate.
    Then a little birdie told me there is a follow up random 3 visits in a neighborhood separate from the later May on follow-up on the unreturned but delivered censuses. Grrrrrrrrrr.

    • If you get everyone on your road to fill out the census, then the Bureau assured me that there will be no followups. If people have tossed the form, go get the form from the post office, have them fill it out and send it in post haste. The sooner it gets in, the more likely the census office will get it into their computer. Hopefully, that will be before the return visits start and they won’t come out the road then. Good luck.

  • Because we had people on our road get three front door visits from the 2010 census crew, we locked our gate. The nice census lady came to a neighbor who named the names of her neighbors on our road. So we all got them on our gate. We all comply just as we did ten years ago. We think Census 2010 is over and unlock our gate.
    Then a little birdie told me there is a follow up random 3 visits in a neighborhood separate from the later May on follow-up on the unreturned but delivered censuses. Grrrrrrrrrr.

    • If you get everyone on your road to fill out the census, then the Bureau assured me that there will be no followups. If people have tossed the form, go get the form from the post office, have them fill it out and send it in post haste. The sooner it gets in, the more likely the census office will get it into their computer. Hopefully, that will be before the return visits start and they won’t come out the road then. Good luck.

      • nobody the mouse

        Hi Kym,
        That is what is so funny, we all filled one out right away, because we wanted to, once given them.
        Higher up the chain of authority than our nice local census lady , being discreet here, I was told to my face that there was the random 3 location per map area return of a census worker before the May period, independent of the followup for the unreturned forms. To my face. I am not trying to be alarmist here, just to record a separate source of information that contradicts what you were told.
        The census was a breeze, and not a worry, had we not had three to the door invasions in 2000, not to the gate, we wouldn’t have had our hackles up.
        I remember the out of the area census people working back then driving in perceived hostile territory with crappy unreadable maps. I have never felt powerful enough scare someone in my life as when I tried to help an older woman who was obviously lost. I kind of liked the feeling.
        I wouldn’t worry too much about there being a record of individuals in these times, maybe not on genealogy sites, but think of all the computer data being stored. Or don’t and be happier.

        • KMUD is going to do a piece about this Monday (I think) I hope she addresses these discrepancies in what we were told.

          • Kym, it is probably passe by now, but I did some follow-up and there is a ”
            Quality control” follow-up round of random visits to each area…just to see if you got your census. This is separate from, and precedes the follow-up on non-returned censuses. Our gubmint dollars at work.

  • About 3 or 4 weeks ago I went outside in the early morning hours to retrieve the newspaper from the front lawn. Okay, so it was about 8:15 a.m….early for me! There were two censusworkers right there. They said I was their very first person! They verified my address and gave me a census, which I took inside and completed. It took a couple of minutes and that was it. Easy, quick, painless.

  • About 3 or 4 weeks ago I went outside in the early morning hours to retrieve the newspaper from the front lawn. Okay, so it was about 8:15 a.m….early for me! There were two censusworkers right there. They said I was their very first person! They verified my address and gave me a census, which I took inside and completed. It took a couple of minutes and that was it. Easy, quick, painless.

  • It really is easy isn’t it!

  • It really is easy isn’t it!

  • You’re a smart lady on all counts, Kym.

  • You’re a smart lady on all counts, Kym.

  • As an avid genealogist, I have used census records that go back to 1770. At that time, the only information on them was the name of the head of household and the number of people in different age categories. By 1850, the questions covered names and ages, of all members of the household, place of birth &, marriage status. The requested information has changed with each census.
    I was surprised to see how little information was required this year. We have three people in our household and it took no more than 5 minutes to complete it.
    I have to admit that the old census records have been a major source for me and a wonderful asset in discovering my family history and I appreciate the information that my ancestors were willing to share.
    However, I do understand, in today’s world, that privacy is a major issue, and, I probably wouldn’t want my household’s life put on a spreadsheet for the whole world to access.
    At this time, the census records are not made public for 70 years, although I believe you can go to one of the archives and look at the original records before that time has elapsed.
    That said, I do feel sympathy for those genealogists who will follow in future years. There is so much information that will never be available to them .
    Kym, I like the new look of your page.

    • As a genealogist, I mourn all the wonderful information my grandkids won’t find in the census. And I’m pretty sure that you can’t access this census’ individual records for 72 years but I haven’t researched it. I just got that off a genealogy site.

      I like the new look too.

  • As an avid genealogist, I have used census records that go back to 1770. At that time, the only information on them was the name of the head of household and the number of people in different age categories. By 1850, the questions covered names and ages, of all members of the household, place of birth &, marriage status. The requested information has changed with each census.
    I was surprised to see how little information was required this year. We have three people in our household and it took no more than 5 minutes to complete it.
    I have to admit that the old census records have been a major source for me and a wonderful asset in discovering my family history and I appreciate the information that my ancestors were willing to share.
    However, I do understand, in today’s world, that privacy is a major issue, and, I probably wouldn’t want my household’s life put on a spreadsheet for the whole world to access.
    At this time, the census records are not made public for 70 years, although I believe you can go to one of the archives and look at the original records before that time has elapsed.
    That said, I do feel sympathy for those genealogists who will follow in future years. There is so much information that will never be available to them .
    Kym, I like the new look of your page.

    • As a genealogist, I mourn all the wonderful information my grandkids won’t find in the census. And I’m pretty sure that you can’t access this census’ individual records for 72 years but I haven’t researched it. I just got that off a genealogy site.

      I like the new look too.

  • Fiance here:

    I have done plenty of my own genealogy research my self, I found one of my great + grandfathers that came here in the late1500’s on a ships logs but it was census records that headed me in that direction. I also found one of my other great + grandfathers and a break down of his families (he had four wives, and no we are not mormons) through North Carolina census records and also noted that there was one slave listed under his households. This was all in the late 1700’s. Yet, considering the political climate and the massive amount of freedoms we have let go of recently, I am glad for the limited information that they are asking for.

    I have a huge book on my family as does one of my aunts, we keep them bound nicely, with stories and pictures and have made copies for anyone in the family that asks. I think knowing your roots and family history is an important thing for people. I grew up feeling like we had no culture, I studied cultures from all over the world and ours seemed so boring, no real traditions except Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. It wasn’t until I really got into genealogy that I realized what a rich cultural heritage that I had.

    One of the reasons that I have been so careful to preserve the information that I gathered was so that future generations of my family have a reference point, what I have documented is well over 500 pages and so anyone that comes after me will not need as much of the government records like the census to help them as I did. Now we just add new marriages, births and deaths as we go and try to put little tidbits about ourselves as well.

  • Fiance here:

    I have done plenty of my own genealogy research my self, I found one of my great + grandfathers that came here in the late1500’s on a ships logs but it was census records that headed me in that direction. I also found one of my other great + grandfathers and a break down of his families (he had four wives, and no we are not mormons) through North Carolina census records and also noted that there was one slave listed under his households. This was all in the late 1700’s. Yet, considering the political climate and the massive amount of freedoms we have let go of recently, I am glad for the limited information that they are asking for.

    I have a huge book on my family as does one of my aunts, we keep them bound nicely, with stories and pictures and have made copies for anyone in the family that asks. I think knowing your roots and family history is an important thing for people. I grew up feeling like we had no culture, I studied cultures from all over the world and ours seemed so boring, no real traditions except Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. It wasn’t until I really got into genealogy that I realized what a rich cultural heritage that I had.

    One of the reasons that I have been so careful to preserve the information that I gathered was so that future generations of my family have a reference point, what I have documented is well over 500 pages and so anyone that comes after me will not need as much of the government records like the census to help them as I did. Now we just add new marriages, births and deaths as we go and try to put little tidbits about ourselves as well.

  • To be perfectly honest, I was surprised at how much information they wanted. It is one thing to find out how many people live at our home, but quite another to ask for so many personal questions. I was a bit put off due to the privacy matter. It is all good and well that they say the information wont’ be made public, but then again perhaps a presidential mandate might change things. Haha. I sound like a conspiracy theory type and of course I don’t think I am. I will give it some more thought though, Kym, since you think it is a good thing. Your argument about tax money coming our way, is a sound argument.

  • To be perfectly honest, I was surprised at how much information they wanted. It is one thing to find out how many people live at our home, but quite another to ask for so many personal questions. I was a bit put off due to the privacy matter. It is all good and well that they say the information wont’ be made public, but then again perhaps a presidential mandate might change things. Haha. I sound like a conspiracy theory type and of course I don’t think I am. I will give it some more thought though, Kym, since you think it is a good thing. Your argument about tax money coming our way, is a sound argument.

  • I filled out mine just to insure they won’t come back, but what do they need your name for? Let’s be real, the information is confidential until it’s not. If the government wants info on you, they get it, period.

  • I filled out mine just to insure they won’t come back, but what do they need your name for? Let’s be real, the information is confidential until it’s not. If the government wants info on you, they get it, period.

  • The art of staying hidden is to blend in with your surroundings. As you say Jim, the government can get information on you if it wants to. In fact, given a large amount of money and time, I could probably take any person’s address and collect a bunch of information. But, by sending in the information, you stay under the radar. You don’t stand out.

  • The art of staying hidden is to blend in with your surroundings. As you say Jim, the government can get information on you if it wants to. In fact, given a large amount of money and time, I could probably take any person’s address and collect a bunch of information. But, by sending in the information, you stay under the radar. You don’t stand out.

  • I refuse to answer anything.

    They act like they will send someone over to make me answer some questions. They did this in 2000 too. I didn’t get the $100 fine in 2000 when I refused to answer the questions from the followup temporary government workers coming over to ask ludicrous questions.

    If I get fined in 2010, I will still refuse to answer anything in 2020.

    The census is not released for 70 years… unless Uncle Sam needs to draft some bodies, throw some citizens into concentration camps based on their ethnicity, or deny some more rights to undocumented workers.

  • I refuse to answer anything.

    They act like they will send someone over to make me answer some questions. They did this in 2000 too. I didn’t get the $100 fine in 2000 when I refused to answer the questions from the followup temporary government workers coming over to ask ludicrous questions.

    If I get fined in 2010, I will still refuse to answer anything in 2020.

    The census is not released for 70 years… unless Uncle Sam needs to draft some bodies, throw some citizens into concentration camps based on their ethnicity, or deny some more rights to undocumented workers.

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