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The 2010 Census-Stand up and be counted...

The twenty-third national census in the United States.

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Only in the Federal government...

  • Mar 23, 2010
The Census collects apparently important information that helps the Federal government decide how to waste money in the future. The population, age and racial demographics help Washington make a choice about whether billions should be poured into cities in Ohio or California, and presumably they have algorithms to ensure it's done in the most cost-ineffective way possible.

The Census is also timely in its arrival since politicians had practically exhausted all other ways of pissing away taxpayer money. After giving away tens of billions to failing banking organizations and automakers and then trillions in stimulus spending (thanks for repaving the road outside my house that was repaved a year ago), there was considerable head-scratching about where the next government accounting blackhole would be, which included:
  • Setting fire to the money directly as it came from the 24/7 presses under Ben Bernanke's house.
  • Finding another oil-rich country to liberate.
  • Releasing Bernie Madoff and electing him head of the Federal Reserve.
  • Building a bridge to Hawaii. Then making it tsanami-proof.
Fortunately, none of these back-ups were needed since the 2010 Census clocks in at a staggering $14.5 billion, 3 times the cost of the 2000 data collection exercise and 10 times the 1980 cost (not adjusting for inflation which we all know doesn't exist anymore).

Check out my Census Cost page, or the interactive version, and marvel at the sound of dollars being shoehorned into the fireplace. The graph illustrating cost per person isn't particularly helpful given the enormous growth in the last 3 decades, but this picture of Kingda Ka probably gives a better sense of where the costs is headed.

At this rate, the next Census will cost $150 per person, and by 
2040 the total billion will be one tenth of a trillion dollars. And in case you're wondering, the annual US GDP is around $14 trillion.

The truly staggering part about this is that the Census only collects the most basic of information (the number of people in your household, their names, ages and ethnicity). Most of this could be pulled from:

  • IRS tax records
  • State records - tax, DMV, etc.
  • Google (probably and, if not, shortly)

And the best part is that the only way to participate is by mail! The Federal Government, ever the trailblazer for adopting technology in airports and any other privacy-crushing enterprises, refuses to acknowledge the Interwebs whenever potential cost saving is involved. Imagine my delight when I had sharpen my pencil and reink my quill this morning to fill out my Census form, rather than opening my browser and answering their questions online in 30 seconds flat. Some guy in Phoenix is now anxiously waiting anxiously for my hand-scripted response so he/she can rekey the data into some 1970s mainframe system.

In what sort of Kafka-inspired madness is this in any way acceptable during these economic times? It defies belief that pretty much any private solution to data collection would come in at 1% of the cost, and get significantly more than the 13% average national response rate we're currently at. 13%! We can barely afford to teach kids to read, but $14 billion to find out everyone's details is apparently a good investment.

In the words of Mugatu, "I feel like I'm taking crazy pills".


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April 15, 2010
Creating jobs for the sake of creating jobs. Lots of people to feed apparently. We noticed the same thing in China. A job like cleaning can be done by one person (with machinery) was distributed to 5 others at least. Instead of building rubbish chute in a high rise apartment (which makes sense to me after years of living in Singapore), they make people go up & down the floors to pick up garbage instead. That's on foot, mind you, not by the lifts. Naturally, people are healthier with exercises and hence, cut down the cost of health care in future. Logical? perhaps. Efficient? Nope.
April 16, 2010
Digging holes to fill them up again...
March 25, 2010
Thanks for the facts about the census. It sounds like it is all about temporary jobs to make the unemployment numbers look better, and more subsidy to the forever inefficient post office and its unions. When money printing can't keep up with government spending us into deeper and deeper debt, what's a few more tens of billions. Our sky rocketing taxes will never come close to paying for it all.
March 25, 2010
Excellent review! When I received my letter telling me that I will be getting my Census to fill out in about a week , then getting the actual Census to fill out ( I was greatly disappointed that it was just 10 measly questions); then after mailing that back to them I received a post card reminder it is a federal law with fines if you don't fill out the Census or if you did filled it out Thank you! What a complete waste of taxpayer money. As usual, when the money is not actually coming out of there own pockets they don't mind spending it!
March 24, 2010
Great Review! I agree with you tremendously on how much this is a waste of our tax dollars. I've experienced this first hand a couple months ago when a member of the Census showed up in our office to invite us to a "Census Party"! I couldn't believe they invited hundreds of people to party on my tax dollars.
March 24, 2010
Wow, that's seriously screwed up. I feel like starting some sort of awareness movement about this complete abuse of taxpayer money. "Census Party"! Clearly you should have hung around for the Census vacation to Hawaii... :-D
March 24, 2010
You should make a community here on Lunch for it! I'm sure you could get a good amount of members. I'd join!
March 24, 2010
We should call it the Constitutional Community where we call out the endless abuses by Washington!
March 24, 2010
Send me the link to join the community when you make it!
March 24, 2010
hilarious and sincerely thought provoking - thx!
March 24, 2010
Thanks! I figured that if they fine non-response at $200, the whole thing could actually make a profit. :-)
March 23, 2010
Fabulous review! Another colossal waste of money by our esteemed government. Did you hear about the handheld computers that don't work? BTW I love that picture at the end of your review. I feel exactly the same way. Keep on truckin'!
March 23, 2010
Thanks! The $2.5mm Superbowl ad looks like a bargain compared to the wave after wave of reminder postcards stacking up in 50 million mailboxes. I'm surprised nobody's been outraged by the cost of this thing. And why in the hell do they have handheld computers when they could just get people to fill in the form online? Craziness. We actually need a 50% cut in Fed spending at this point - even the ex-head of the Government Accounting Office is freaking out about the national balance sheet. *Sigh*
March 23, 2010
It's a pleasure to hook up with someone with common sense. Keep up the good work.
March 23, 2010
Thx - for sanity's sake, I regularly ready where the author has been on a James-style rant for two years about the same issues. You'll love this guy!
March 23, 2010
Whoa, I just took a look at your graphs and geez, how does a flimsy piece of paper being sent in and analyzed cost nearly $50 a person?  And ditto -- there should be a web version of this for people who have the internet.  I was kind of excited to fill out and see the results of this census, but I'm less so enthused now after learning that it's going to cost $14.5 billion dollars to do so.  Plus, I think that there are many other ways where the gov could tap into the info that they receive from this.  Thanks for sharing, James, and glad to have you back!
March 23, 2010
Yeah, I'm all for the Census but the fact it continually multiplies in cost as technology leaps forward is just crazy. Clearly I need to get a job with Federal Government at the low low rate of $7,000/hr (with great benefits). Nice to be back! Time to get Lunching...
March 24, 2010
Oh, and I'm sure with the $7k/hr with benefits comes a great retirement package, too! ;P  By the way, don't know if you were a fan of Lunch of FB, but your review was shared on it this morning! ;)
March 24, 2010
Just became a fan!
March 24, 2010
Woot! :)
March 23, 2010
humorous yet timely review! Thanks, James!
March 23, 2010
glitches are here again...I meant humorous yet clever and timely review! LOL!
March 23, 2010
Many thanks! I've now settled down from my rant thx to two cups of coffee. :-)
More 2010 United States Census reviews
review by . July 19, 2010
posted in Big Government
The 2010 US Census is a joke. There is so much waste and corruption. I personally know a Census worker. She is unemployed at the moment and needing some extra money to get by. The cenus job seemed like a great fit. She is finding the whole process is worse than the poorly managed marketing jobs serving samples at WalMart.   They attend trainings, then they are told how many hours they can work. Then they are told the work is not available. Then they are told just be ready to work …
review by . February 10, 2010
Time has rolled around again for our country's census.  This includes having one mailed to your home for you to fill out and mail back as well as census-takers coming to your door.  Which one would you prefer?  I would much more prefer filling it out and mailing it back.  One good thing about the 2010 Census it's offering jobs for the dismal economy.  The census is taken to find out the country's population which will allow for proper funding to go to these areas for …
Quick Tip by . April 08, 2010
Giving me my first paid job in a month. Can't complain.
Quick Tip by . March 31, 2010
posted in Big Government
The local census office invited us to a census party. Why is there a census party? Huge waste of tax payers money!
Quick Tip by . March 22, 2010
Fill out the easy questionnaire and be counted. Let them know you exist. it is super easy.
About the reviewer
James Beswick ()
Ranked #1's "token Brit".
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The Twenty-third United States Census, known as Census 2010, will be the next national census in the United States. The census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790, as required by the United States Constitution, with the previous one completed in 2000. On January 25, 2010, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves personally kicked off the 2010 Census enumeration by counting World War II veteran Clifton Jackson, a resident of Noorvik, Alaska.
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