Census doesn't want to know as much about you as you think

By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

We are a nation of people who will turn over our credit-card numbers to someone on television guaranteeing rock-hard abs in two minutes a day.

All too many of us are inclined to believe that a Nigerian lawyer will pay us handsomely if we just let him use our bank account to transfer a small fortune.

And we have no problem Facebooking, Twittering or YouTubing our toe fungus issues, binge-drinking episodes or children's transgressions to millions of others online.

So what explains why some fear the U.S. Census? It came in the mail last week. It's sitting on your kitchen counter, mocking you. Do you dare open it?

There are dozens of Web sites urging Americans not to respond to the 10 questions on the 2010 survey of our country's population. Some Libertarians think that it's an invasion of our privacy and that the government should buzz off; there are people offended by the form's racial classifications; and there are folks who think it's the government's way of pinpointing us for more nefarious purposes, like deportation or tax liens.

The District has a particularly low response rate. In 2000, only 65 percent of D.C. residents sent the survey back without further prompting. People did much better in Maryland, at 74 percent, and in Virginia, at 73 percent.

Response in some cities was so bad that the Census Bureau launched a gimmicky marketing campaign to get people to participate in this year's count. Dora the Explorer is in schools trying to get to parents through their kids. There is a U.S. Census racer on the NASCAR circuit. The agency even has a 13-vehicle road tour that made a stop at the Super Bowl.

This historical lack of participation is especially heartbreaking in the District, where we mourn our "taxation without representation" yet are reluctant to stand up and be counted when the time comes.

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), the council liaison for the census, told The Post that District residents who aren't responding might be worried about some of the myths circulating about the census. He said some people think that if they fill out the form, the government could come after them for unpaid parking tickets.

Really? People think that the District's Department of Public Works needs the federal government to find you and your illegally parked car?

It is the most efficient and ruthless branch of our city's government, dispatching dozens of workers to find every car parked in a rush-hour zone at 4:01 p.m. or catch anyone who dares pull up to a downtown meter at 9:28 a.m.

No worries, fellow traffic scofflaws: The census workers will not be the ones to rat us out. We have bigger worries on that front.

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