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.