Wednesday, March 24, 2010

America Comes to Its Census

Governments have always been obsessed with knowing exactly how many people they govern.

I have no doubt that around 50,000 years ago there was a Cro-Magnon king (let's call him King Grog) who set about to discover just how many people (not including those stinking Neanderthals) were living in the Kingdom of Grogtopolis. Of course, in those days there was only a small fraction of today's population on Earth, so a total of 50 or 60 might have made for a decent-sized country. (Unfortunately, since numbers weren't invented yet, Grog would have to have all of his citizens standing in front of him to get the idea.)

And then 48,000 years later, in probably the world's most famous census, Joseph and Mary schlepped to Bethlehem to be counted and all heaven broke loose.

But modern times call for modern tactics.

As a veteran of five censuses (censi?) that I actually can recall I think the U.S. Government is going about this 2010 census all wrong. They're stressing the importance of filling out the form for proper representation in congress or for the allocation of funds to each municipality. In other words, they're emphasizing the “responsibility as a citizen” angle. I'm afraid that's a non-starter today. If citizens were really responsible, non-presidential elections would get more than a 20 percent turnout, and dead or jailed politicians would never get elected.

But I have a solution for record-setting census compliance.

The 2010 census needs to be marketed like a sporting event in which you the citizen are playing! True, it's a sporting event that takes a year to play and then another year or so to compile the results, but we would downplay that aspect in the promotional materials.

If we can tap into the competitive instincts of Delaware County residents I'm betting they'll be sending in their forms immediately and cheerleading their neighbors to do the same.

How, you say? Here are just a few off-the-top-of-the-head ideas:

In the 2000 census Delaware County had 550,864 residents. Bucks County was about 45,000 ahead … a deficit we could easily have made up in ten years. (Naturally, we would not encourage residents to fill out multiple forms but I suggest we don't blatantly discourage it either.)

Upper Darby Township was too far ahead for anyone to catch with 81,821 people (Haverford Township was next at 49,608), but there are some fantastic races to keep an eye on when the 2010 results dribble and ooze in. Rutledge and Rose Valley are neck-and-neck for smallest borough (860 and 944, respectively).

Folcroft (6978) was ever-so-slightly ahead of Prospect Park (6594) in 2000, but I know three people personally who moved from Folcroft to Prospect Park, so that one is heating up like … well, like a wire from your TV to the wall outlet that feels kind of warm and certainly might be trouble down the road.

Household incomes are a real strength area in the 2010 census marketing plan. Here, that aforementioned tiny jewel known as Rose Valley is Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and pre-scandal Tiger all in one. The median household income there in 2000 was $114,373. Next closest is Edgmont at $88,303. Still, not bad for Edgmont I'm sure you'll agree.

It's the middle boroughs that are so competitive. Millbourne ($30,185), Chester Township ($32,576), Colwyn ($33,150), Eddystone ($37,543), Lower Chichester ($38,846) … I could go on and on. Again, I think we should be ambivalent regarding the over-estimation of income, as this would enhance the spirit of competition.

And so I offer these suggestions as a loyal American citizen, asking for no compensation or special privilege. (Alright, I wouldn't mind a little special privilege every now and then.)

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