The Census 2010 Golden Carrot
Birth of the Idea and What You Can Do About It
by Frank Fitzgerald
As a foot soldier in the Census 2000 struggle with the Uncounted, I am happy to read (New
York Times, June 12, 2000 "Census Takers Top '90 Efforts in New York, With More to
Go") that we are doing well, though this is not what the local Manhattan chief head counters had been telling the troops. Whatever the evaluation of this year's enumeration, it has to be admitted that it is, at best, a very expensive way to get citizens to accept a concept enshrined in the Constitution. I have, however, come up with a plan that could enable
Census 2010 to be done almost entirely by mail and online, and could garner much more accurate data - and guarantee that the few enumerators who would have to take to the sidewalks and hallways of this great land would be treated with smiles, cheers and, best of all, actual respect.
What do I, a novice enumerator, know about the science of census data gathering? As an
artist/sensitive guy/one of the few remaining liberals in this
country, I had more than a few apprehensions about hiring out to unearth details concerning my neighbors, but I saw the $18.50 per hour and it was good. Conscience thus assuaged, I signed on.
Toward the end of my third (and last) day of training, I and other plebes hit the streets for our baptism of fire. It was around 2PM on a Wednesday. My feeling was that we wouldn't find too many folks in their homes at that hour. I was right. What I did not expect was that human contact would be rare even during the "optimum hours" cited by the Census Bureau (weekdays from 6PM - 9PM, and weekends), when folks were supposed to be poised receptively before the tube in their recliners. Actual experience found that walking around inside a high-rise even at 8:30PM with 30 addresses therein to contact was not much more productive than at mid-day when, obviously, everyone was downtown toiling to keep up with the rising cost of Reeboks. On weekends, it was positively eerie traipsing the 28 floors of Rupert Towers' silent halls. A little like visiting a desert ghost town, only less colorful.
Wherever Manhattanites were, they didn't seem to be at home - ever. Well, almost never. When they were at home they were
"just getting ready to leave" and absolutely could not give me the 4 minutes and 22 seconds I told them was all it took to answer a few simple questions and if you really can not take those very few moments now could you please give me your phone number so I can call you and you can complete this
Well, thank you anyway.
(The last few words being spoken to the door - actually, the peephole in the door. Somehow that seemed more personal. I mean, they could be looking at
The real problem was that I began to take the "No, not now" and accompanying DOORSLAM
personally. I tried to see it as people rebelling against Big Brother or
run-of-the-mill inconsiderate folks who didn't give a you-know-what for civic responsibility and the welfare of this nation, but, nice-guy-wimpy-
artist that I am, I ended up feeling rejected! Something like this can get depressing fast. I would tell friends (and myself) that it was
pretty unpleasant pushing a product nobody wants. (The government training manual, if you can believe it, closed by telling us to "remember to have fun" at this work.)
Taking a weekend break, my wife and I headed out of town to retrieve our college student son and his computers and tapes and clothes and books and laundry and CDs and bedding and boxes and bags of
godknowswhatall. Martha and I were motoring along I-81 North when it hit me. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, I had my revelation:
Give the unenumerated an offer they can't refuse!
From whence did this simple wisdom spring? Given that my productivity average after a few weeks of foot labor and telephoning was about one questionnaire completed per hour, I had been telling Martha that the government should
just take the $18 they were paying me (and other NY City enumerators) and bribe folks to comply. No doubt, I said, Uncle Sam would get a better return for his
billions from his millions if he greased their many million palms.
Now it came to me: What do our fellow citizens love more than life or liberty? A lottery!
(Students - commit the 3 Ls to memory
now: Life, Liberty and Lottery. They will be on your SATs for generations to come.)
So here is the deal - each state that recognize the need for an accurate count and desires an efficient, sensible, cutting edge - and
enjoyable - approach to the usually cumbersome task of counting millions of heads, can
support a Great American
Census Pot of
Gold - Million
Lottery within its borders. Those moralistic fuddy-duddy states that narrowly view this as an encouragement to gambling would be welcome to do the count by the present tried and true
Plodding Behemoth Method - and more power to them.
The enlightened (Well, we are aren't we?) among us will, by public demand and legislative
action if need be, require our state to authorize a non-profit
organization to set up the raffle and solicit prize money from public-spirited corporations,
foundations and rich guys who would normally squander their dough trying to buy one public office or another. The monies gathered would become the golden carrot to be dangled before all prospective census "respondents." Every respondent living within the borders of one of these forward-thinking states who completes a census questionnaire will become a potential winner of the
prize(s) offered. Inuring the feds from complicity in something that makes this much sense, the Census Bureau would neither conduct nor condone this part of the experiment in data gathering - they would just verify the results,
the one requirement for winning being that the information entered on the form be accurate and verifiable.
A million bucks has a nice ring to it, but lets have some second, third and 50th prizes too, OK? Obviously, the details for the lottery would need to be worked out. Perhaps increased prizes would go to those having completed the dreaded "long form." And some safeguards should be put in place to ensure that all can participate without fear of reprisals for revealing information they would rather not make public. Specifically, non-citizen winners concerned about being booted out of the country for one reason or another might be guaranteed
anonymity + their bag of bucks and a first class ticket to a sunny and more hospitable Caribbean isle, thereby fulfilling the primary aim of the New Census - to make sure that everyone is happy and
So citizens, hear this:
Write your legislators, media moguls, business leaders and cool visionaries today and demand they get behind The
Census Pot of
Gold - Million
Census Lottery is not gambling - it just lets you
win a lot of money patriotically.
Another swell idea brought to you by U.S. Citizens for Us
Email Census Jackpotguy
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