The first official notice arrived in early December. We are one of a small percentage of American households selected to complete what used to be known as the "long form" census and we feel pretty darn special, that's for sure! The one page letter, single sheet (English/Spanish) was addressed:
To the Resident of
with one line instructions:
Go to https://respond.conesus.gov/acs to complete the American Community Survey.
We were invited us to go online to complete the survey. But with one thing and then another, the invitation was set aside. Until a reminder arrived yesterday with the BIG survey 28-page booklet, noting:
This survey is so important that a Census Bureau representative may attempt to contact you by telephone or personal visit if we do not receive your response.
Lest we think we are (too) special, the letter added:
The Census Bureau chose your address, not you personally, as part of a randomly selected sample. You are required by U.S. law to respond to this survey. . .
Failure to comply or providing false information is a federal offense punishable by fine, Title 18 U.S.C Section 3571 and Section 3559, which amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221. How much you'd have to pay, and whether or not this law is enforced is a topic of discussion. The Austin American-Statesmanwebsite notes that "the fine for refusing to answer a bureau survey can be as much as $5000," although "no one has been prosecuted for failing to respond to a survey since the 1970 census."
The printed questionnaire is a large booklet measuring 10-1/2 inches square with staple binding. It's filled with 28-pages or questions printed with black ink inside green boxes. The checkboxes and fill-in-the-blank response boxes are large white boxes. The Census Bureau obviously wants to make this form as easy as possible to read and complete.
Why Don't They Just Call It, 'The Census'?
Politicians seem to get itchy whenever Census is mentioned. Some like it, some don't. The questions are reviewed, approved (or not). Some questions have been asked in every Census since 1790 -- how cool is that! Some are new. In fact, a lot of questions are new… and controversial. I read a little about the battle for the census here and here and here.
I wish they just called it "the old census" instead of the ACS. The new name and new random sampling are a response to public sentiment that the long-form every-decade full census was too long and too intrusive. The new ACS samples 250,000 households per month, adding us in the final cut for 2014.
The American Community Survey website helpfully lists the questions categories and provides a link to the American Community Survey Information Guide. I was interested in the questions asked and found a downloadable PDF of all questions as well as information about individual questions. Each question is presented with responses:
Why We Ask
State and County Uses
Private Sector Uses
Questions We Wished They'd Asked in 1880
Genealogists love information on births, immigration, and former residences, but it's not hard to imagine why some people might feel that the government is getting a little personal. As I rephrased and copied the questions from the booklet for this list, I felt a few twinges too. The official survey site labels the questions with official-sounding names like Fertility, Disability, or Plumbing Facilities, but what (or whom) do you think of when you read:
Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions?"
Does this person have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?
Does this person have difficulty dressing or bathing?
Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have difficulty doing errands alone such s visiting a doctor's office or shopping?
Wouldn't we love to have those answers on the 1880 census when multi-generational households were typical, not unusual? Or
Does this person have any of his/her own grandchildren under the age of 18 living in this house or apartment?
Is this grandparent currently responsible for most of the basic needs of any grandchildren under the age of 18 who live in this house or apartment?
How long has this grandparent been responsible for these grandchildren?
What They Ask in 2014
Questions on today's American Community Survey begin with name and telephone number, and the number of people at the residence. The form asks the following Information for each person in the residence:
- Relationship to Person 1
- Age, Date of Birth
- Hispanic, Latiino or Spanish origin
Pages 2 through 4 provide space for up to itemized information for up to five household members; persons 6 through 12 are listed by name, sex, age.
On page 5 through 7, the survey asks questions about Housing:
- Kind of building (mobile home, house, apartment, etc)
- When built
- When Person 1 moved in
- How many acres
- Actual sales of agricultural products from this property in last 12 months
- Business on the property (store, barber shop)
- How many separate rooms
- How many bedrooms
- Hot/cold running water, flush toilet, bathtub/shower, sink with faucet, stove, refrigerator, telephone including cell phone
- Do you or any household members own computers, handheld, other type of computer
- Subscribe to internet using dial-up, DSL, cabel, fiber-optic, mobile broadband plan, satellite Internet, other
- Number of vehicles
- Which fuel used most for heating
- Cost of electricity last month
- Cost of gas last month
- Cost of water and sewer last 12 months
- Cost of oil, coal, wood etc last 12 months
- Did you r receive Food Stamps last 12 months
- Part of a condominium
- Home owned with/without mortgage, rented, occupied without rent
- If rented, monthly rent
- If owned or mortgaged, potential sale value
- Annual property taxes
- Annual fire, flood, hazard insurance
- Other debt against property
- Monthly mortgage payment
- Include property taxes?
- Include insurance?
- Second mortgage
- Total costs for taxes, rent, registration, license for mobile home and site
Pages 8 through 11 ask questions about Person 1, followed by four pages each for responses from Persons 2, 3, 4, and 5.
- Where born
- U.S. Citizen by birth in U.S., territories, abroad of U.S. parents, or by naturalization (give year)
- What year to U.S.
- Attended school or college in last 3 months, public or private
- What grade atending
- Highest degree or level of school
- B.A. Degree major
- Ancestry or ethnic origin
- Language spoken at home
- How well does this person speak English
- Live in this house 1 year ago, if no whether outside U.S. or different house in U.S.
- Where living 1 year ago, address
- Health insurance coverage
- Deaf or hard of hearing
- Blind or vision impaired
- 5 years and older:
- Mental impairment due to physical, mental or emotional condition
- Difficulty walking or climbing stairs
- Difficulty dressing or bathing
- 15 years and older
- Difficulty doing errands alone due to physical, mental or emotional condition
- Marital status
- in last 12 months married, widowed, divorced
- How many times married
- What year last married
- Female age 15 to 50
- Given birth to any children in the past 12 months
- his/her own grandchildren under 18 living in this house
- this grandparent responsible for most of basic needs of under 18 children living in this house
- how long responsible for these grandchildren
- Active duty in U.S. Armed Forces, Reserves or National Guard
- When served
- VA servicie-connected disability rating
- What is this persons service-connected disability rating
- Last week, work for pay at a job
- Address where last worked
- Transportation to work last week
- How many people rode in vehicle
- Left home at what time to go to work last week
- How many minutes to get home from work last week
- On layoff last week
- Temporarily absent from job last week
- Informed to return to work within 6 months
- Actively looking for work
- Could have started work if recalled
- When last worked
- In last 12 months, did this person work 50 or more weeks?
- How many weeks worked?
- How many hours worked each week
- Current of most recent job activity
- For whom worked
- Kind of business or industry
- Manufacturing, wholesale, retail, other?
- What kind of work
- Most important duties
INCOME in Last 12 Months
- Self-employmnet income
- Interest, dividents, other income
- Social Security or Railrod Reitrement
- State or local assistance
- Other income
- Total income
The entire survey is rated to take 40 minutes to complete. The time required will certainly vary with the number of household members.
We will do our civic duty this evening. Personally, I'm glad it's eggnog season.