Census goes too far with children

Child labor has been officially illegal in the United States since the late 1930s; that is, except for the U.S. Census Bureau. The bureau is embarking on a massive, well-funded plan to use schoolchildren in grades k-12 across the country to serve as salespersons for the 2010 census.

In recent decades, the census has become more than the counting of people the Constitution envisioned. It has morphed into a multibillion-dollar project, backed by thousands of bureaucrats and designed to gather for Uncle Sam as much information on as many people as possible.

In one respect, this phenomenon is a not-unexpected outgrowth of the natural tendency of government to increase and retain power. As the amount of taxpayer dollars flowing into and out of the federal government has expanded exponentially in recent years, so also has the carrot-and-stick the feds employ to pressure states and local communities to do its bidding. Thus, the census is now marketed to states, counties, cities, families and even individuals as a way for the benevolent government to make sure everyone gets their “fair share” of federal largesse.
Viewed thusly, it is perhaps understandable the government has decided that limiting itself to a single, decennial census is inadequate. Enter the perennial census. Now, in addition to the required decennial census, we have the “American Community Survey,” which includes page after page of probing questions about income, employment, driving habits, household appliances and much more.

Apparently the process of gathering all this “vital” information is just too much for the overburdened government to handle, so the Census Bureau brainiacs have decided to tap into America’s vast labor reserve — our schoolchildren.

While the government used schools to a limited extent in the 2000 census, the bureau’s new program, called “2010 Census: It’s about us,” takes “us” to a new level. Students in all grades would study the census using government-provided materials. They would discover the “value” of the census to their families and to their communities. They would engage in “celebrations” about the census; and would be given take-home materials with which to “encourage census-related conversations at home.”

Public schools will be easy to reach and enlist in this program; but the bureau recognizes that for maximum impact, private schools and even home-schooling parents need to be brought on board. Therefore, the official Web site includes in its plan getting materials to all private schools and even home schoolers via the Internet. Parent-teacher associations are encouraged to become “official partners.”

The government says it wants to “encourage students to collect data on their own,” but under this program it will be teaching young children how to be government collectors of information. The bureau even has plans to enlist Sesame Street characters to enhance the learning experience of becoming a government snoop.

The feds increase the likelihood of squeezing every bit of information possible out of everyone filling out the census form by reminding us that failure to comply can be considered a criminal offense. With this in mind, perhaps the administration will be deputizing the new cadre of junior bureaucrats.

This truly is no laughing matter, and parents across the country should stop this thinly veiled effort to teach their children the fun of gathering information for the government. At a minimum, parents should keep their children home from school during “Census in Schools Week” (to occur sometime between January and March 2010, according to the “It’s about us” Web site). There are any number of conversations that ought to occur around the family dinner table that are far more important than why government-funded programs are so vital and why we should happily give to the government all the private information it wants.

47 comments Add your comment


September 8th, 2009
9:10 am

help end the recession go to http://www.atlshirt.org :) FIRST!


September 8th, 2009
9:56 am

At a minimum, parents should keep their children home from school during “Census in Schools Week” (to occur sometime between January and March 2010, according to the “It’s about us” Web site).

Bob – wrong. Do not keep kids home from school. This can be handled at home by parents just as they handle issues such as sex, drugs, smoking, etc, etc, etc. Our population is ignorant already, do not increase the ignorance by keeping kids out of school a week.

And parents, write you congressman & senators & tell them this census stuff has to stop. It is no one’s business how many TVs I own or if I eat spinach.


September 8th, 2009
9:59 am

Bob, I got news for ya, this has been happening for a long time. I remember being in 3d grade in 1980 and we were all taught about the census, the difference between the long form and short. Why it was important that our parents complete it, what the point of it was, etc. So this is hardly new. Just that folks have become 100% more paranoid about these things now. See, it is stuff like this that will always keep the Libertarians out of power, because they just come off as too much of wack jobs when they oppose things like this.


September 8th, 2009
10:06 am

I love how conservatives are now up in arms about issues like this. We have been educating chidren about the census for decades… Presidents have been speaking to schools for years (remember Reagan touting tax cuts to elementary school children). But now that a democratic president (and a black one to boot!) is in charge, these morons see conspiracies around every corner. But it is hard to convince simple minded people not to be afraid when conservative leaders fan the flames of fear just to keep their base in check. It’s pathetic.

Shannon, M.Div.

September 8th, 2009
10:17 am

OK, I think you’re right about most Republicans/Libertarians… but I have to give it to Barr. He’s intellectually consistent. Even though I’m a liberal, I’m glad that he’s out there crusading for personal privacy. Being anti-census goes right in line with his mission, so this column isn’t a surprise and has nothing to do with Obama. Barr didn’t like much of the Patriot Act, either, and he gave quite a diatribe over cameras at traffic lights. He goes far beyond what I think is necessary, but this is his passion, and I’m glad he’s being heard. He’s not just another Limbaugh-Savage-Hannity-Boortz hypocritical scaremonger. He’s serious about this one issue, he’s a legal expert on that issue, and he sees that issue everywhere (because it IS everywhere).


September 8th, 2009
11:20 am

In the future, if your kids do give you some state-sponsored federal financed guilt trip concerning your “obligations” to supply information to help our government,
direct them to the federal government food pyrimid.

There is no happy meal there.

Also, take out federal taxes on their allowances.


September 8th, 2009
11:43 am

Agreed, Shannon. I can make it through one of Barr’s columns. The other conservative writers on AJC are completely unreadable.

Chris Broe

September 8th, 2009
11:44 am

..and Bob Barr goes too far with adults.


September 8th, 2009
11:50 am

When filing out any form asking for information I always encourage people to lie a certain percentage of the time.It keeps the data off kilter just enough.

Mike Conway

September 8th, 2009
11:52 am

Hmm… This kind of reminds me of the novel 1984. In that book, the government was fully successful in getting children to snoop on their parents.


September 8th, 2009
12:18 pm

While I don’t agree with holding children out of school (using kids for adult protests is a lazy version of protest jmho) I do agree with the theme of this article.

Regardless of who is President, the govt. does not need to know all the information they ask. Especially when they give vague answers on how this information will be used.

To me, it seems like all they want it for is to slice and dice for their own relection/constituent control purposes.


September 8th, 2009
12:31 pm

Jiminy Christmas! I think Bob forgot a dose of his meds…

Seriously, folks, if your parenting skills are SO bad that the “gummint” teacher can get your kids to act as informants of the ‘gummint; then, well, maybe you have bigger problems.

The census *is* important. Money, congressional seats, and a whole lot more are determined by those numbers.


Hillbilly Deluxe

September 8th, 2009
12:46 pm

Like most everything else, it winds up being all about the money.


September 8th, 2009
1:21 pm

I just shake my head sadly at how much further out in left field you continues to drift. There was a time that you could actually be counted on to make sense at least as often than not but sadly those days are fading into memory. Either ask them to increase your medication or seek effective treatment for whatever unpublicized head injury you suffered or do whatever it takes but please try to find some help before it’s too late. A tin foil hat is not a flattering look to be remembered by.

the evil rich

September 8th, 2009
1:41 pm

How about if we just return to the census that Mary and Joseph had to do?

Trust the government, ask an Indian

September 8th, 2009
1:43 pm

Max, it’s the “whole lot more” I’m worried about.

Robert Groves, Census Director

September 8th, 2009
1:52 pm

Local school districts choose to teach Census in Schools lessons to help children learn math, geography, social studies, and science as well as the fact their Constitution was the first in world history to use a census to empower the governed over their government. The Census is the one civic moment that involves each and everyone of us, especially the children, who are historically undercounted in every census since the first in 1790. Census In Schools enjoys strong bipartisan support from Congress and educators because it teaches children about the American Constitution. Article I, Section II of the Constitution mandates a decennial Census to ensure the fair and equitable apportionment of political representation. We are raising awareness of every person in America, adults, children, and the elderly included, that the Census is coming next March and that it is one of the shortest in history. It is just 10 questions and takes about 10 minutes, and only Census Bureau employees will be collecting the forms, not children.


September 8th, 2009
2:25 pm

My concern about the census is the lengths to which Census employees are willing to go to get it filled out. I’m perfectly willing to answer with names, ages, and number of people in my household once every ten years. Anything beyond that, the census takers need to take my “no” and go on about their business. Instead, unless you tell them everything down to how many times a day you use the toilet, they harass and threaten you with prison time! After the grief my family was given over the “American Community Survey” last time (rude threatening phone calls for WEEKS), any census taker that approaches me next year will be given names, ages, and number and then politely told to get off my property. If they refuse, I will be calling the police.

mutts R Ugly

September 8th, 2009
3:03 pm

Aw always refuse to answer unless my lawyer is present, then say I choose to remain silent. Callin’ the cops on em sounds like a really good idea.


September 8th, 2009
3:20 pm

Do what Charles Rangel does, lie !


September 8th, 2009
4:41 pm

Folks, Isn’t this what Hitler or one of those other crazies did? Getting children to spy on their parents…..let’s be mighty careful…..we’re headed in the wrong direction. Thank you Bob Barr, a great American, for bringing yet another of our glorious governments schemes to light. Please, keep on keeping us informed.

Social Scientist

September 8th, 2009
5:25 pm

Why does the Census “probe” for this information? Because government and nongovernment social scientists like me have no other dataset that even compares to the demographic and social characteristics of the population at the national and subnational level provided by the Census. How do you think we plan for services such as hospitals, highways, schools, nursing homes, shelters, public assistance programs, and so much more???? Do you think we could just make up these statistics?! We need this information and without it not only will you not be counted, but your city loses its share of money and your area could loose a legislative seat! If you want to keep that information private – go ahead. But realize that this affects your governments ability to plan for YOU.

Remember that no two places in the U.S. are alike. We are all unique. But how can we serve each communities needs without knowing them?

I am a die hard republican. But that is pure ignorance being stated by other conservatives out there regarding the Census. THIS IS OUR FUTURE.

Mrs. Norris

September 8th, 2009
5:31 pm

It’s all part of the re-indoctrination. I’m so glad my children have graduated. And for those of you who think Libertarians are kooks, hope you like your fascism when it gets here. Remember anyone who may oppose it is a kook.


September 8th, 2009
6:46 pm

Social Scientist–

I fail to see how anything more than number and ages of household members is necessary for your planning of “hospitals, highways, schools, nursing homes, shelters, public assistance programs”, and there are very few who object to providing that basic information which is essential to representative democracy. But you certainly don’t need to know how many bathrooms I have or how often they are used, or the answers to any of the other extremely obnoxious questions on the American Community Survey. And that’s aside from the fact that giving YOU data was NOT the purpose for which the Census was instituted.

As for “affecting the government’s ability to plan for me,” I’m not one of those who wants or needs the government to plan every aspect of my life, quite the contrary, and I’ll admit that I rather despise people who do.

Social Scientist

September 8th, 2009
7:21 pm

I understand what your saying, no need to rely on the government. When you are put on the waiting list for a local nursing home, don’t come crying to me saying that we should have planned better for the community’s needs.

And yes, the Census was instituted for other reasons. I was referring to the “probing” for more information.

Ive never seen any question regarding how many times a day you flush your toilet. Until then, good luck with living in your governmentless society.


September 8th, 2009
7:53 pm

For those of you complaining about the collection of information on the number of TVs present in your household; that is the norm worldwide. Not just in the US. The World Bank collects technological data for most countries in the world. (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DATASTATISTICS/Resources/table5_11.pdf) This isn’t used by the governments of the world to pry into your personal life it’s a way for many countries, especially developing countries, to be able to set realistic goals towards having complete access to the information provided through these mediums.

Mrs. Norris

September 8th, 2009
8:34 pm

Oppressive governments are the norm world wide too. What’s your point?


September 8th, 2009
8:34 pm

Social Scientist–

Again, why do you need any information other than number of people and their ages to plan the number of nursing homes?

As for your other snide remarks, there’s a vast spectrum of possibility between “governmentless society” (the word is anarchy, by the way) and the intrusive, paternalistic kind of government that demands to know everybody about you by force so it can plan every aspect of your life. I’m not interested in either sort.

And to the next poster–

“The rest of the world does it” is hardly a good enough reason. Most Americans are here because either they or their ancestors were trying to get AWAY from the way the rest of the world does things.

Wat Tyler

September 8th, 2009
8:38 pm

So, Socialist Scientist, what you’re saying is there is only a choice between communism and anarchy, no other choice. I guess our founding fathers were deluded.

Mrs. Norris

September 8th, 2009
8:46 pm

If I have to have communism to get into a nursing home, I’ll just have my children put me on an ice floe.


September 8th, 2009
9:47 pm

How are governments being oppressive by trying to help their citizens get access to more information?? And my argument was not that that’s why it’s ok I was stating the positive uses for that specific data that is collected.


September 8th, 2009
9:59 pm

Because it’s not the citizens who are getting the information, it’s the government!! Or had you not noticed that the census isn’t made public for 70 years after the date it is taken? Not that it should ever be public now, with all the info they collect. We’ll have no privacy left at all in 50 or 60 years when the last couple of rounds are released! Nobody should collect this much private personal information for any purpose. We’re talking about things that most people wouldn’t even dream of telling close friends, why would you want to tell the government? And someday anyone who wants to look?


September 9th, 2009
8:12 am

Folks, one hundred and forty eight years ago, our glorious 16th president, old honest abe, stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and killed six hundred and fifty thousand good americans. If we americans aren’t careful and continue to give our elected officials more and more power and control over our lives, in my opinion, we are doomed to repeat the past. Everyone needs to read the “True Story Of The Bilderberg Group”. It will give you some idea of what’s happening in our world today.


September 9th, 2009
2:04 pm

AA – RE:”Because it’s not the citizens who are getting the information, it’s the government!!”
If you go to the Census website, you will be able to see some of the results of the work that is the Census. You, the public, can access *aggregated* data about any area in the country, without the ability to identify individuals.

Besides planning in the public sector, if you have a business and you want your business to succede, part of your business plan will be to focus your efforts precisely on the markets where your customers live and work. The acquisiton of this data is incredibly expensive, so the fact that the government foots the bill for so much of the raw data is enormously helpful to businesses large and small from one end of the country to the other.


Sally Mc

September 9th, 2009
2:13 pm

This has been an interesting read. Thanks to BB for getting it started. I agree w/ those who applaud him for being consistent–makes us think beyond our usual assumptions.


September 9th, 2009
5:09 pm


So the public gets “some” of the “aggregate” data……..while the government gets a huge database of specific, individual personal information. NOT anonymous data, and why not? Surely the uses you and others have mentioned here would be equally well served by anonymous data? In fact, that’s your point, isn’t it? That the publicly available information is anonymous? So why does the government need all that detailed information attached to our names?

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September 10th, 2009
4:27 pm

Wow, this is insane! I really don’t understand the concept of “God Bless America” from the mouths of flag-waving conservatives, who then turn around and trash our country every chance they get. We have been doing a Census every ten years since 1790, because it is in our Constitution to do so. Men like Washington, Jefferson, Adams and more who were the founding fathers of the United States knew that democracy means equitable representation and that comes from understanding and knowing where people are. I know our country isn’t and hasn’t been perfect in the past, but you can’t be a proud American and hate the very foundation of what America is about: our democracy and our people. Understanding who we are as a nation, every ten years in detail, helps us plan for the future. If you have a party or a wedding, you sent invitations out and RSVP is expected so that you can plan for the right amount of seats, food, etc. Same goes with the Census, on one hand you have the Congressional representation, but on the other you have our entire federal system. Where money gets spent for roads, schools, senior citizens and children. Most adults have no idea why we do the Census and think it is a government “big brother” program. The Census is a history of nation and it tells us who we are and allows us to understand our history. I can’t believe that someone would discourage children from learning about American history! For them to relate what they learn to their parents and to hope for a better Census in 2010 is simply good planning for their own futures on their part. Federal money for college (that they will need), growth and expansion of industry and jobs (that we all need) and just about every aspect of your daily life is influenced by the composition of the people where you live. It is important for everyone!


September 10th, 2009
10:51 pm


I don’t think anybody here objects to the basic census. An “enumeration” is perfectly constitutional and necessary for representative democracy. What I–and I think others here–object to is being forced with threats of prosecution to divulge to the government every last little detail about my life down to whether or not I called in sick to work last week. And I especially object to having young children lectured on the party line by their teachers so they can come home and add to the pressure

Deborah Fetkovich

September 11th, 2009
12:02 pm

I’ve read that the 2010 census is going to be a whopping 27 pages worth of questions. Those who fail to complete the entire thing can expect visits (perhaps from ACORN thugs?) It’s also been discussed that if indivudals aren’t as forthcoming as the govt deems appropriate, your neighbors will receive visits and be pumped for information about you.

The Constitution mandates a census every decade for the purposes of determining representation in the House of Representatives. The govt also is entitled and indeed ought to know who lives in our borders, where they live, and what their citizenship status is. All of this can be accomplished with a few questions on a single page.

All of this is highly disturbing and Mr. Barr’s information on the govt’s plan to turn school children into unwitting “snitches” is absolutely disgusting. It’s reminiscent of the Third Reich.

Deborah Fetkovich

September 11th, 2009
4:34 pm

Our nation’s 1st census was in 1790. Here’s the questions asked:

1. Name of head of family
2. Number of free white males 16 and up, including heads of families
3. Number of free white males under 16
4. Number of free white females including heads of families
5. Number of all other free persons, except Indians not taxed
6. Number of slaves

Deborah Fetkovich

September 11th, 2009
4:54 pm

Take II: After visiting the government’s consus website, I’m more confused than ever. Even though the census forms have all been printed, there’s an embargo (censorship) to prevent members of the public from seeing what the census will consist of. There’s also the claim that revisions have been made and only the short form will be used and that this form should take no longer than 10 minutes to fill out.

There’s mention that it’s against the law not to fill out a census form — a law that has never been used, but the govt site doesn’t tell us that. I don’t recall this threat being used in previous census years. There’s also the claim that information is now gathered annually instead of every 10 years and that there will be use of the controversial “estimating” instead of actual data — a practice that isn’t constitutional.

Deborah Fetkovich

September 11th, 2009
6:27 pm

Woo-Hoo! Congratulations to Glenn Beck. US Census Dept has just announced it had severed all connections to ACORN.

FOX NEWS is the best.


September 11th, 2009
6:59 pm

Hey Bob -

It’s good for children to learn about the Census for no other reason than to learn that it dictates how many representatives we receive in Congress and that states use it to gerrymander district boundaries — two facts that most adults in this country don’t even know. The simple fact that educating children about things that affect them as adults somehow scares you like an Orwellian novel should raise an eyebrow to your readers. The less people know, the EASIER it will be for socialists and left leaning liberals to take over this country.

Do some fact checking next time.

Census Mngr.

September 14th, 2009
6:59 pm

I am glad to read so much vigorous debate regarding the Census Bureau. Yes, I do work for the U.S. Census Bureau Decennial (that’s what the once-per-decade Constitutional-mandated-censuses are called) as a temporary and intermittant employee. I worked on the 1990 and the 2000 Decennials in various clerk positions. I also worked for a short while as a field representative on one of the current(ongoing)surveys. I began in October in my present local census office position, and I will finish in the fall of 2010, becoming once again a former Census employee!
My job is to coordinate the recruitment and testing of people like each of you to work on the 2010 Decennial. These are temporary positions working on tasks such as updating and verfying mailing addresses, so that when the Decennial questionnaires are mailed out next year, they will go to actual addresses, and the right number will be sent out.
Next year, Americans will mail back the 10-question Decennial survey. (If you would like a sample copy of the Decennial survey, call your local Decennial Census office and request a sample copy).
As I mentioned before, this is a Constitutionally mandated census-Article I, Section 2. This means that EVERY person must be counted, and that refusal to comply is a violation of a Constitutional mandate.
In the first Decennial in 1790 the goal was to satisfy all parties in the new Federal government by allowing each state to have two Senators, while each state additionally had representatives chosen according to population. This way, less populated states would have the opportunity for equal representation as a more populous state, regardless of the geographical size of the state.
As Deborah stated above, the first questions asked how many of certain persons were in a household, that some persons were not counted, and that (as per the Constitutional wording)slaves were not counted as whole persons. Gender was already being tallied, as was the NAME of the head of household. By the early 1800’s, additional questions were being asked, and more were added until by 2000 the “long form” was an unweildy document. Much of that is now the American Community Survey (ACS, which is NOT the Decennial survey).
The U.S. Census Bureau conducts, on an ongoing basis, several surveys which collect information on employment levels, health status, crime, etc. When you read the statistics on the number of unemployed or incidences of certain crimes or illnesses, these are data taken from ongoing, current surveys. If your county has water projects and free student lunches, these are based on Census-collected data. Specific identifiers are removed from this data, protecting respondants, personally identifiable information.
I, like many of you, am very concerned with the intrusion of government and media into our private lives. The Decennial and the Census Bureau provide data which can help support efforts by Americans to protect their rights and to gain information necessary to securing benefits or to promote programs and projects.
Additionally, Census data provides one of the world’s best geneological archives–in fact, most geneological research endeavors in this and many other countries rely on Census records.
So, while you may rightly wonder if your life and your children’s future are safe in the hands of “The Government”, the Decennial and the U.S. Census Bureau are efforts which, though not perfect, provide the sort of data which can be used to fight government injustice–even should it be the Census Bureau itself!

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September 21st, 2009
11:18 am

I can’t believe so many can allow themselves to be so incredibly ignorant. This isn’t child labor or an invasion of privacy and doesn’t need to be political (the buzz words have just gotten out of hand on all fronts). As a teacher myself, thank you Mr. Grove for your comment. I couldn’t agree more with it.