Skittles, Trolls, the Census and Congressional Representation: A True Story

Many of you have recently filled out, or will soon fill out, the 2010 Census form.  Under Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution, Congress is empowered to carry out the census. According to the Constitution, “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”  The primary goal in counting every living person in the newly created United States of America was to determine representation in the Congress.   For that reason alone, the census serves a crucial political purpose.  In recent years the country has seen a population shift from the “rust-belt” in the Northeast and Midwest toward the Southwest – a shift that has tended to favor the Republican Party.  It is likely that this trend will continue as a result of the current census. But the census does more than simply measure population shifts for the purpose of reapportioning representation in Congress.  It is also a tool by which officials can measure changing demographic trends, and use that data to, among other purposes, determine the allocation of government grants-in-aid programs.  So it is important that everyone fill out the census form.

Thirty years ago, in one of the many jobs I held before stumbling into political science, I worked for the Census Bureau as an “enumerator” charged with going door-to-door to determine the population in my assigned areas.  As an enumerator, I had many adventures including being chased off a property by a gun-toting “survivalist” who refused to provide any information to the “guvment”.  But I never had the following experience, which I now relate to you in the hope that you will appreciate the job done by enumerators everywhere.  As you will see, it is not always an easy task.  I hope, after reading this, that you will fill out your census form promptly and mail it in and that you will respond courteously to any enumerator who shows up at your door.

A woman lived alone with her mentally-challenged son, who was a teenager.  She normally did not leave him alone, but one day was forced to do so.  She went off to work, but promised her son she would call throughout the day to make sure he was alright.

A few hours into her workday, she called home to see how he was doing.  He replied that he was fine, now that “the troll was in the closet.”   She thought about this for a bit, and decided that he was probably watching a television show about mythical creatures, and therefore did not press him on the topic.   A few hours later, she called again.  He replied that all was well, and noted that he was feeding “the troll Skittles” which the troll seemed to appreciate.    Once again she dismissed the comment as the product of an overactive imagination linked to a television program.   When work ended, she returned home.  Upon entering her house, she asked her son how the day had gone.  He immediately took her to the living room closet, within which she found a Little Person – (what some used to called a dwarf), with Skittles dispersed around him.  This Little Person was an enumerator, working for the Census, who had knocked on the door of the mentally-challenged teenager’s house to ask the few questions required as part of his census duties.  When the mentally-challenged teenager opened the door and saw the Little Person enumerator, he had immediately assumed he was a troll.   Before the Little Person enumerator could react, the mentally-challenged teenager grabbed him and locked him in the closet, where he remained until Mother came home to free him. I do not know if the Little Person continued as an enumerator, or decided instead to move on to a safer job.  But I hope you will appreciate the difficulties faced by enumerators everywhere, and treat them with respect.  After all, they are fulfilling a constitutional mandate.

I know tomorrow is April 1st.  But this is an actual event.   My students will confirm that everything I say is true.

Please, fill out your census form.  And remember to stock up on Skittles.

*The original version of this event said the enumerator was “tied up”  – according to my source for this story, this was incorrect. The enumerator was locked in a closet, but not tied up.


  1. Prof., is it any more rational to fill out a census form than it is to vote? The value of individual control over grants-in-aid must measure up against the individual value of their disbursements in some manner or other. Do you comply with the Census out of a rationality principle (as opposed to voting)?

  2. Jeff,

    My primary concern is with the health and safety of the Census enumerators. As a scholar, however, I also value the compilation of data that some future undergraduate may draw on when writing their senior thesis.

  3. Hello,

    I dont agree, I dont think that its the goverments business who lives in my home, if i own my home or have a mortgage. or any of the other questions that are on the form that I have viewed online.

    I get no help from the goverment, I paid to put myself through college without any help from any student aide or grants.

    I agree to say how many live in a residence full time, but that is it. The rest is the goverment wants more infomation about everyones personal life.

  4. Trish. Oops, you need to go back and recover some of your money you paid for college, and try to learn this time. You obviously did not pay attention:

    First line: “don’t” requires the apostrophe, as does “it’s”. and “government’s”, and there’s an “n” after th. “r” in government.
    Second line, “I” is always capitalized.
    Fourth line, again, “government” has an “n” after the “r”.
    Fifth line: “student aid” does not have an “e” at the end of “aid”.
    Last paragraph: “everyone’s” requires the apostrophe.

    Let’s see, six lines, eight mistakes!!!

  5. Peter, get a life. Who cares about perfect grammar on a comment. Go become an english teacher then. Who gives a shit. Shove perfect english in your ass

  6. Jon, Anyone who graduates from college should know how to spell don’t! It’s people with your attitude that give American students and American schools bad names!

  7. Bottom line everyone, the Census data is used by our politicians to dispurse funding, redistrict states and to give representation based on number of people.

  8. How effective is the census?

    Well, let’s see. While the census has a purpose of informing the government on how much money to be spent where for what population, the estimated numbers are not enough. Over the past years, there has been an increase of 500,000 illegal immigrants to U.S. every year (Migration Policy Institute). In 2000, there were 8.7 million illegal immigrants which has increased to 10-12 million in 2005. So over these past couple decades, they’ve replaced approximately 730,000 American labors with illegals (Dr. Donald Huddle of Rice University). Oh and considering how many of them aren’t returning to their mother countries, they are starting to repopulate in our country. And guess who pays for their welfare in the name of their U.S. born kids? It costs American taxpayers $45 billion and $10.5 billion in California alone (Federation for American Immigration Reform). So yes, on top of being unemployed in America, people are still financing the government for los ilegales.

    So back to the “how effective is the census?” Well, the government has an approximate idea of how much to provide for the legal population. But when public services don’t check the statuses of immigrants, there simply just isn’t enough to serve the total population.

    P.S. — I’m considering applying to Middlebury next year. Currently, still a junior in high school.

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