The U.S. Census: A head count or a dole out?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted April 10, 2000

By now all of you have received your census form and most of you have probably filled it out. The short form was mailed to 83 per cent of American households. That contains just the basic information which has always been asked in the census. The long form, which 17 per cent of you received asks 53 questions which apparently many of you feel are intrusive. More on that in a moment.

First let me quote to you from the letter accompanying the census you received from Kenneth Prewitt, who is the Director of the Bureau of the Census. The letter says in part "your answers are important. First, the number of representatives each state has in Congress depends on the number of people living in the state." Okay, that is true enough and exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they built the census into the Constitution.

Then Prewitt goes on to say: "The second reason may be more important to you and your community. The amount of government money your neighborhood receives depends on your answers. That money gets used for schools, employment services, housing assistance, roads, services for children and the elderly, and many other local needs."

For that sentence Congress ought to demand that Prewitt be fired. The suggestion that determining the federal formula for doling out dollars for programs which are nowhere mentioned or implied in the Constitution is perhaps more important than determining who sits in the Congress from which states is outrageous. Yet not a word has been forthcoming from the Congress. That is because no doubt most of them now have come to believe that the census is more important for that reason than the reason for which the Framers of the Constitution wanted us to be counted.

That, by the way, was the motivating factor for the Clinton Administration's unsuccessful drive to have the census determined by mathematical sample instead of by an actual count. Those who claim that throwing money at every social ill is the only way to cure that ill contend that there was an undercount of the last census, which caused many urban areas to be shortchanged. Why? Because millions of illegal aliens refused to answer the census questions and thus were not counted. The same, according to the liberals, applies to the homeless and even to other categories of people. So the Administration wanted to enumerate 90 per cent of you and have the remaining 10 per cent determined by a "virtual count." In other words, a bureaucrat would estimate the number of illegal aliens living in L.A. County, for example, and would then factor them into the count.

By the way, I never understood which 90 per cent would be counted and how it could be determined who the remaining 10 per cent were who would become technically non-persons according to that proposed system. Fortunately, for once, Congress rose up and objected and the federal courts upheld their objection, as well as that filed on other grounds by Matt Glavin and the Southeastern Legal Foundation. So illegal aliens and other categories of citizens are not going to be counted to determine who sits in the Congress. The Administration defiantly said that the courts may stop them from counting people by their new methodology for determining Congressional representation but when it comes to dishing out federal dollars they are going to use their virtual system anyway. Congress has now prohibited that as well, but whether or not fake formulas will be used come 2001 or not will depend entirely on who controls the White House and who controls the Congress.

The point is simply this. We have come so far from the system of a limited federal government that our Founding Fathers had in mind that now carving up trillions in federal money becomes more important than who represents you in Congress. That distortion is just plain sickening, but it is a stark reminder of just how askew things have become.

And as to those pesky 53 questions, it is the law that they have to be answered if you get the long form. You can be fined $100 for not answering or $500 for giving false information. Sound constitutional lawyers such as Christopher Klicka point out that the Constitution says, respecting the census count that it shall be conducted "in such a manner as they (the Congress) shall by law direct." That clearly gives Congress the authority to require the long form and it has done so. So either answer up or be prepared for a visit by the census authorities and get out your checkbook to pay the $100 fine.

Oh, and regarding question 25, about how you normally travel to work: Check "trolley bus" and their transportation statistics will be forever screwed up.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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