I may have stumbled onto something to help avoid the greatly-hyped and much-dreaded plunge over the fiscal cliff – or at least delay it.
A few days ago Margaret and I received a letter from the U.S. Census Bureau notifying us that our home was randomly selected to play a crucial role in the American Community Survey. A questionnaire would arrive shortly and we were asked to complete it in a reasonable length of time and rush it back to the federal government. (As incentive to complete the survey, we were informed that failure to do so would translate into committing a federal crime. Immediately I envisioned a SWAT team descending on our neighborhood if we were delinquent in fulfilling our federal obligations.)
As promised, the 28-page survey arrived, complete with a 16-page instruction book, another letter reminding us that federal law requires compliance, a three-panel listing of frequently asked questions and a postpaid return envelope.
A quick review of the survey disclosed that the government wants to know a lot about us and our home – our ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, the type of building, whether it has any commercial structures attached, when it was built, how many cars we have, whether it has indoor plumbing, the type of heating fuel, the amount of last month’s and last year’s utility bills, the past year’s outlay for utilities, taxes, resale value, mortgage payments or rent and property taxes.
There’s also a section on the number of rooms in our house with very specific criteria established as to what constitutes a room as opposed to a super-size walk-in closet. (A kitchen is a room; a bathroom is not. Rooms are defined as having built-in archways or walls extending at least six inches and going from floor to ceiling.)
The bureaucracy is also looking for very detailed data on the people living here. Among the questions are language fluency, insurance coverage, disabilities, military service, work status and pay levels, pensions, retirement funds, all leading to a total income figure.
(I write this weekly column and I’m doing some freelance hit-and-miss book editing for a Detroit area book publisher. Do I include planning time? Do I include phone time? Do I take into consideration expenses involved since neither position carries an expense account? Do I count only the actual typing time? Do I ignore computer downtime?)
Big Brother wants detailed data on up to five people. If there are more than five at the selected address, we are instructed to list their names and ages with the possibility of a telephone follow-up for more details.
The government has, in its wisdom, assured me that the whole process shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes. (I don’t know whether that’s 40 minutes per person or whether it’s 40 minutes for everyone or how someone arrived at that number.)
Collecting up-to-date information to help meet the needs of communities across the country – such decisions as deciding where new schools, fire stations and hospitals are needed, as well as helping communities plan for emergency situations. A worthy goal, though I’m not sure how it would play out in the real world.
Take the funds put into this project – preparing and distributing the survey and instructions, compiling the data as it’s returned to Indianapolis, putting it all together into some sort of comprehensive study – and apply that money toward balancing the federal budget.
But until my voice is heard and adhered to, I’ve got to start scrambling to pull together last year’s electric, water and gas bills.
Trivia tidbit from mental_floss magazine: The glue used on Israeli postage stamps is kosher.
Quips ‘n’ Quotes: An anonymous quote I ran across: “How do people with multiple personalities fill out their census reports?”
Henry Passenger’s column appears each Wednesday in the Tuscola County Advertiser. He can be reached at [email protected]