Tax Dollars and the Census
A Springfield News-Leader article about the Census doesn’t mention the Constitution. Nor does it characterize the Census as a medium for your life story, as the Census Bureau would like you to believe. Instead, it makes participating in the Census sound like a great opportunity to express your dependence on government.
As David Stokes pointed out in the comments to my previous post, local governments want as many people as possible to mail back their Census forms, because Census data determine the allocation of federal funds. A manager in the Springfield Census office puts it bluntly:
“We have to show that there is a need and that there are people here in the community,” she said.
Here’s another quote from her, this time referring to those who don’t participate in the Census as if they were no better than recalcitrant drug addicts:
“We’re trying to be very genuine about how we help the community, and we can’t help them unless they help themselves by cooperating.”
To this manager, civic duty and the Constitution’s directives take second place (if they factor in at all) to grubbing for cash — an effort that will succeed only if you prove that a lot of people in your area need the money. I don’t think this is going to resonate with people. I expect that more people will be enthused about submitting their autobiographies than about begging for handouts.
The “let the government help you” theme reminds me of something from a campaign in 2000. As part of his bid for lieutenant governor, Wendell Bailey ran an ad on the radio that went like this: First, the announcer said, “Seniors have problems.” Then you heard the distraught voice of a senior crying, “We need help!” The announcer came back on with the slogan, “Wendell will work.” Bailey ended up losing the election, and I don’t think the tone of his radio advertising made the campaign any easier for him. People just don’t rally around the idea that they’re helpless.
I’d prefer that officials stress the constitutional source for the Census, but if they’re not going to do that, they might do better to focus on the stories rather than the tax dollars.