GOP: Census Survey Asks Too Much

By New York Times, New York Times - August 20, 2010

The Republican National Committee is demanding that the Census Bureau stop being so nosy, or at least stop requiring that Americans comply.

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The Republican Party isn’t taking on the census itself, the count of the United States population made every 10 years, but the more comprehensive American Community Survey.

Conducted annually by the bureau, the survey replaced the long version of the census form. It is sent to millions of American homes to collect information on income, education, mortgage debt, marital status, race, religion and more. Burton Reist, a bureau official, said Thursday that it is the nation’s “official statistical portrait,” used by governments to allocate resources, by businesses to make labor force and investment decisions, and in the distribution of federal money.

Privacy concerns about the 2010 census never grew into a boycott. (In fact, about the same proportion of people returned their forms as in past years.) But the Republican National Committee resolved this month that the Census Bureau behaves “exactly as a scam artist would, asking very personal questions,” and called the survey “a dangerous invasion of privacy,” and “overreaching and intimidating.” The committee said the Census Bureau was “spending millions of tax dollars to violate the rights and invade the personal privacy of United States citizens.”

The resolution invokes the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and notes that the Constitution mandates a count only every 10 years — to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives. The party is demanding that the bureau either scrap the American Community Survey or make participation voluntary.

The resolution endorses legislation introduced by Representative Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, to require the bureau to stick to the basics: name, contact information, date and the number of people living at an address. A spokesman for Mr. Poe said on Thursday that the bill had attracted 34 co-sponsors.

The committee’s resolution says that the census’s long form was eliminated because of “objections by the American people to this intrusive questioning.” In fact, it was replaced with the American Community Survey to simplify the census and collect data in a more timely manner.

The bureau says the questions are required by Congress to manage or evaluate government programs. Income information, for example, is used by, among others, Social Security, the National School Lunch Program and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, and by the Department of Education to allocate grants.

To the resolution’s complaint that the survey asks “even if the respondent has given birth to any children in the past year,” the bureau explains that the question is “a measure of fertility that is used to project the future size of the population, a basic planning tool for agencies of the government,” and to research child welfare and the need for voluntary family planning services.

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