Entries in Census (4)
I sometimes think that I need to take a deep breath and relax, but then I hear crap like this. If you don't feel like listening to the audio clip, I don't blame you. Here's a transcript (from the same website) of Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips:
"The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn’t you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners."
I'm going to put this lightly: This is one of the most ridiculous and elitist things I have ever heard. Did he just go through the same decade as the rest of us did? Namely, the decade when this happened:
You all remember this happening, right? [Also, if the historical trend interests you, there's this.] OK. Let's pretend, just for a second, that the homeownership world didn't go crazy. Let's rewind to 2000 when everything was normal-ish and we weren't reeling from a mortgage-industry catastrophe. That year, this was the renting situation in the US:
Let's think about this, shall we? In 2000, roughly 33% of occupied housing units were rented in this country. So, everyone in those housing units would be out of the voting game. What about the over-18 citizens living in owner-occupied housing, who don't happen to own property themselves? I guess they would probably be out too. This is the most common criticism I've heard about this comment thus far: ageism. Young-people simply don't own property at the same rate as older people. Of course, Phillips didn't suggest we raise the voting age, just that we limit the right to property owners. There are seemingly countless additional issues I could argue here, but before I take the ageism question a little further, let's go straight to something the Tea Party hates to admit:
The existence of structural racism and the fact that it manifests in many ways including homeownership rates. Without isolating individual minority groups (which would make the results even more dramatic -- and by a lot -- in some cases), I offer this:
I offer these maps together because they should be compared. At the same time, despite how annoying the scrolling can be, I invite you to compare the lower green map to the purple map above from the same year. It's one thing to compare the white-versus-nonwhite rental rates (and I admit that those ratios even surprised me), it's another thing completely to realize that there are many parts of the country where most people own their homes and those that don't are people of color.
Before this gets too long, let me list a few things I am completely convinced that Phillips knew he was implying.
- that maybe families living in poverty shouldn't vote, and that maybe it isn't really important that they be represented in Congress by people who will remember them. In this category, he's definitely including families living in public housing.
- that families who've lost their homes to foreclosure in the last few years might also not really be important members of "the community," as he calls it. He might also have been implying that this widespread foreclosure epidemic is a massive coincidence with lots of simultaneously irresponsible people (who shouldn't be trusted to vote anyway) and definitely not the result of a broken banking system and government failure.
- that most people of color, college students living in dorms, people for whom the mobility and flexibility of renting is desirable, and young people in general, have no "vested interest" in this unnamed "community."
- and, lastly, that family households headed by legally married couples should really comprise the voting public. (Did you know that the homeownership rates for families headed by single moms is almost 20 percentage points lower than the national average? Did you know that the homeownership rates for legally married couples is 15 percentage points higher than the national average?)
So, I'm very sure he was cognizant of those things. For no other reason, I believe this because you do NOT make a public statement suggesting that it's a good idea to limit the right to vote without thinking about whom you would exclude. I don't, however, think he thought about this:
Fourteen percent doesn't sound like a lot, right? But let's recall that households usually contain more than one person when we think about five million renting households headed by someone 65+ years old. Let's recall which age groups vote most consistently, with the most dedication to the voting process and what it represents. While we're at it, let's think about living on the itsy-bitsy fixed income many seniors call their Social Security, and consider that these might be households who have chosen to rent in order to liquidate the homes they once owned. Let's consider what the generations over 64 have lived through for this country and have fought through for their right to vote. Today, the very youngest of this group was born in 1945. (In 2000, the youngest would have been born in 1935.) Shame on you, Phillips.
On this last point, on the point of ageism, I'd like to ask what a "vested interest in the community" means. Whose "interest"? Which "community"? Really, is financial investment the only valid investment? Is a lifetime, however long it has been, of citizenship not an investment? The Tea Party calls itself a patriotic movement. I don't do this very often and I do not take it lightly: From a patriot who believes this country should be doing better, Fuck You.
A Facebook friend (FBF) and previous coworker of mine has gotten me thinking. FBF was selected to participate in the American Community Survey (ACS) and is very seriously opposed to the idea of giving up his information.
Brief notes on the ACS. Because the impetus for this post came from the ACS, we should get on the same page about what exactly the ACS is. First off, most (maybe all?) of the questions on the ACS used to be a part of the decennial census. Starting in 2010, the so-called "long form" of the "regular" census disappeared, replaced by the more-frequently-administered, but with-a-smaller-sample-size ACS. It turns out that the frequency offered by the ACS is important: The world changes faster now than it used to. Collecting this information every ten years leaves us high and dry, adequate-research-wise, about five years after the census. If you are unfamiliar with the ACS, please take a moment to look at it. Some links from the US Census Bureau: About the Survey, the questionnaire itself, the use of the population questions, and the use of the housing questions. I'll wait here.
The US, it seems, is at a crisis point even greater than I had previously thought. Citizenship here comes with certain rights and responsibilities. For the sake of simplification and the sake of argument, let's say that chief among those are the right to privacy and the responsibility of membership in multiple constituencies.
On the Right to Privacy. This right is extremely American and extremely important. As a basic civil right afforded to each of us, our "reasonable expectation of privacy" has been defined and defended by the Supreme Court. It is a the center of the debate surrounding the constitutionality of the Patriot Act. It is the reason the police are required to obtain and present a search warrant. Here, the Right to Privacy (RtP) is sacred.
On Constituency. The idea that each individual one of us is both a citizen and a constituent is also extremely American and extremely important. As citizens we are afforded certain protections, services, and rights. As constituents we are also afforded representation in the decision-making processes that determine those protections, services, and rights. While there is tremendous overlap between a citizen and a constituent, they are not the same. Citizenship carries with it a place in the constituency, but in many non-Arizona places constituents include non-citizens and in the District of Columbia citizens aren't necessarily constituents.
Honestly, I am at a loss. I am very scared and deeply saddened. I think my FBF is not a hyper-libertarian. Nor do I think most of the people who commented (there were 45 comments on this status update) are hyper-libertarians. Yet, they wrote the things I will intersperse throughout the remainder of this post. And what most of them had to say seemed to stem from a very real fear of their government, a government that is supposed to be us. I have been writing this post for the last week, drafting arguments and ideas, and I am yet to reach a conclusion. So, here at the risk of sounding alarmist, I offer up yet another current American crisis.
The ACS collects information of utmost relevance to planners and policy makers. Our elected and appointed public servants are charged with the daunting task of allocating funds, creating policies, and providing services to meet the needs of their constituents. The research performed through the ACS is done primarily to describe those needs accurately. (And, again, most of its questions were once part of the long-form of the "real" census.) Furthermore, the publication of the results allows communities to advocate for their needs when they are not adequately met.
The crisis here is the extent to which private citizens do not trust their government with personal information. Ostensibly, information collected by the Census Bureau cannot be shared, and cannot be used for prosecution or any other ill-will. (That's why it's perfectly safe and absolutely necessary for illegal immigrants to fill out the census.) Still, the existence of the Patriot Act does little to assuage the fears of many citizens re the ethical treatment of information by our federal government. And now this is so true that citizens will cite their RtP while opting out of their responsibility as a constituent to provide accurate and timely demographic information. In so doing, they refuse to represent themselves or the constituencies to which they belong.
This refusal is striking and important (and terrifying and saddening). It amounts to refusing the policies, funds, and services that may result from the collected findings. It amounts to refusing the responsibility to represent not only themselves, but the many Americans like them. It also amounts to willfully refusing the special opportunity to tell decision makers exactly where one's tax dollars should be going. This refusal means one's RtP is more important (requiring more diligent protection) than one's expectation that decision makers would consider the actual needs of actual constituents in making their decisions.
I was shocked. I knew things were bad, but this bad? I know most Americans believe their government abuses its power to some extent, but to the point of not trusting the Census Bureau?
This is a crisis point. If decision makers do not have accurate information w/r/t their constituents, they will not make good decisions for us. Without sound decisions based on factual information, we will only distrust them more. Most Americans believe that our politicians are only out for themselves. If we don't tell them what the public needs, we cannot expect them to be public servants. If we value our Right to Privacy above our Responsibilities as Constituents, we have forgotten our social contract. The result is frightening, as we take it to its extreme but logical conclusion, we're staring down the barrel of collapse. These are principles on which the USofA was founded. We balance our freedoms with our obligations, our private lives with our public contributions. If we can't trust our government enough to tell it how we live and therefore what we need, we - together as a collective nation - will fail, because our democracy will not function when we refuse to stand up and be counted.
Since finally posting yesterday's thoughts on the FB thread re the ACS, I realized that there are a few points I should have made clearer:
- I should acknowledge the fact that my perspective on this may sound horribly naive. If you've read my blog long enough, you shouldn't be surprised that my expectations of people and of government often get the best of me. As much as I wish it weren't true, I do in fact understand why these FB-users feel the way they do. And that's the part that's so sad to me.
- It's not just a distrust of the government, although that is a large part of it. We, as an information-rich society, have been trained through various means to protect our information with our lives. The Patriot Act is a component of our fear. The prevalence of identity theft is another. That we could confuse a genuine attempt at collecting needed information with a scam aimed at depleting our bank accounts is a big problem.
- I said it, but maybe not clear enough, so here: The idea that Americans conscientiously believe it is safer and in their best interest not to participate in a government (one that, at least nominally, is a democracy and therefore comprised of We the People) is a bigger problem. That system of government will fail if this continues. There is no democracy without participation from the people, and I see this Census-defying behavior as a dark harbinger of things to come.
- Much of the actual FB comment thread dealt with the specificity of the actual questions asked by the ACS. Those comments were too long (yet, in my HO, too narrow) to include in my examples here. I urge you to go through the links I provided at the top of the post. Two of them explicitly describe the reasons for each set of questions. Let me address a couple questions that were specifically called out as overly invasive on FB:
- Yes, it may seem like a lot to ask how many mortgages you're carrying on your house, but that question is an important indicator of whether our homeownership-based American Dream is actually working. It's an important indicator of what sort of mess the US is really in w/r/t the housing crisis, aka mortgage crisis, aka foreclosure crisis. Think about it: the first mortgage is what you borrow to buy the house. The second mortgage is what you're able to borrow because you bought the house. In the first case, the house is a product and you are the consumer. In the second case, the house becomes yet another form of credit for our credit-based economy to exploit. Our government needs to address this issue, it needs to know that people are swimming in underwater mortgages because they, sometimes, have to borrow against what the bank still technically owns just to sustain themselves.
- Yes, the ACS asks what time you leave for work, how long it takes you to get there, how you get there, and whether you commute alone or with others. There will be NO transportation improvements subsidized by local, state, or federal governments without this information. NONE. No new roads, no additions to mass transit, nothing. In less direct ways, these answers provide an indicator for quality of life and, combined with other questions, start to describe the structural inequality throughout this country. It helps to answer questions like: Do lower-income workers have longer commute times (and therefore higher transportation costs) despite having lower incomes? Are there enough jobs in the areas where people actually live? Is there sufficient demand in certain areas to invest in entirely new mass transit infrastructure? What are our most realistic energy-efficient options given how people are commuting and the distances they are traveling? This is important for long-term planning.
- So, the biggest question on the table was why the Census Bureau needs your personally identifying information, i.e. your name. (Address was also included in the discussion, but I think it's obvious that without your address, they won't know what part of the country, county, city, or neighborhood you represent.) Your name: I'm not super sure. They don't ask your SSN...but they do need your name. Someone help me out on this if you can. My hunch is just that they need your name to make sure that the person they randomly selected (for his/her position within the populace) is actually the person who filled out the survey. I'm also pretty sure that once they verify that you filled out the survey, your name is pretty quickly discarded. Am I right?
I leave you with this. This is what my very very intelligent FBF has to say. Despite the couple places where I'd like to stick a "[sic]," I think it sums up the questions I cannot answer and concerns I cannot begin to address. These are questions and concerns that our government should be very worried about and very committed to trying to answer. Sadly, I don't know that they are. We're a little too focused on red and blue trees to see the burning forest.
So, maybe the coolest part of the decennial census is the redrawing of the congressional districts. So, with the 2010 Census, states are gearing up for this highly charged process, and it turns out Illinois is considering abandoning the ridiculous method by which its map gets drawn. Who new this?
note: Map of Illinois' 110th Congressional Districts was taken from NationalAtlas.gov.
Well, so much for that. Check out the update.
Full blog archive available at Past Current.