Saturday, March 6, 2010

Big Brother Wants to Know All About You: The American Community Survey

Over the past several years, I have been barraged with emails from Americans expressing their dismay over the American Community Survey, the latest census form to hit randomly selected households on a continuous basis. Unlike the traditional census, which collects data every ten years and is now underway, the American Community Survey is taken every year at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. And at 28 pages (with an additional 16-page instruction packet), it contains some of the most detailed and intrusive questions ever put forth in a census questionnaire. These concern matters that the government simply has no business knowing, including a person’s job, income, physical and emotional health, family status, place of residence and intimate personal and private habits. As Beth found out, the survey is not voluntary. Answering the questions is not a polite request from the Census Bureau. You are legally obligated to answer. If you refuse, the fines are staggering. For every question not answered, there is a $100 fine. And for every intentionally false response to a question, the fine is $500. Therefore, if a person representing a two-person household refused to fill out any questions or simply answered nonsensically, the total fines could range from upwards of $10,000 and $50,000 for noncompliance. While the penalties for not answering are outrageous, the questions, as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has said, are “both ludicrous and insulting.” For example, the survey asks how many persons live in your home, along with their names and detailed information about them such as their relationship to you, marital status, race and their physical, mental and emotional problems, etc. The survey also asks how many bedrooms and bathrooms you have in your house, along with the kind of fuel used to heat your home, the cost of electricity, what type of mortgage you have, the amount of your monthly mortgage payments, property taxes and so on. This questionnaire also requires you to detail how many days you were sick last year, how many automobiles you own, whether you have trouble getting up the stairs and, amazingly, what time you leave for work every morning and how long it takes you to get more

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