Two census questions

I lost the instructions for my census form, but I believe it said that I’m legally required to respond. I have the following questions:

Is there a set of rules describing what information a citizen must provide? I’m asked to supply my telephone number, which I don’t like to give out. Is there some legal basis on which the Census Bureau is entitled to request this? May they ask for anything they’d like?

What is the penalty for failing to provide requested information? What is the process by which such penalty is applied?

Would “mixed” be an acceptable response to “What is Person 1’s race?”

IIRC, the phone number is not part of the census, but is rather put there in case the form has missing or incomplete information. It can be left blank.

For mixed race, you can select more than one ethnic group.

Be specific, and check all the boxes that apply, for example both “white” and “Chinese”.

They just want a way to contact you for further information in case your form is incomplete or illegible. If the reason you don’t like giving your phone number out is that you find phone calls from strangers intrusive, consider whether a phone call or a visit from a census worker would be more annoying–sending someone to ask the questions in persons will be their backup plan if you don’t include a phone number on the form. But they won’t fine you or anything for leaving that line blank.

I think the only question you’re required by law to answer is the “how many people” one. As a scientist, though, I would encourage you to answer all of them: There’s valuable data there, and I hate to see gaps in data if it can be avoided.

Yes. The Constitution requires the government to take a Census every ten years, and empowers it to take necessary measures to fulfill this obligation. Furthermore, the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and the statutes and regulations established thereunder allow and require the Census Bureau to ask the questions on the form.

Failure to answer them in a satisfactory way will subject you to a small fine, which (I’m told by other Dopers) has never been enforced. But before that, you’ll be visited by a Census worker up to a half-dozen times.

Proper completion of the Census form will lead to appropriate allocation of federal resources to your community. Failing to complete it can, in the aggregate, lead to insufficient representation in Congress, as well as loss of local health care, police, education, job placement, and other funding and services.

Presumably you don’t want to give out your phone number because you don’t want to be harassed by unwanted personal or commercial calls. The Census Bureau gives your phone number to nobody, and analyzes data provided on the form only in the aggregate. Should any Census employee use your phone number improperly it is, literally, a federal offense. Unless you’re maybe Julia Roberts, it won’t happen. Fill out the form completely, put it in the mail, and forget about it. You won’t have cause to think about it again until 2020.


Questions like the OP’s sadden me. Our country asks very little of you:[ul][li]Pay taxes[]Sit on a jury when asked[]Fill out your census form when asked[/ul][/li]Beyond that, government simply asks you to refrain from breaking laws. Citizens have no other affirmative duties that I can think of beyond those three. They don’t have to bow to a king; they don’t (currently) have to serve in the armed forces; they don’t have to quarter troops; they don’t have to adopt the local religion; they don’t have to screw the tribal chieftain on their wedding nights; they don’t have to be able to speak a particular language; they don’t even have to vote if they don’t want to.

One may cynically deny it, but in exchange for performing those three duties, the government provides a service the scale of which is mind-boggling.

I get depressed when I see people trying to weasel out of serving on a jury. But but every ten years we see a new low: people trying to weasel out of their civic duty to tell the government that they exist. (Note: it’s not clear the OP is trying to do this, but the sentiment seems to be there.)

If you don’t want to put your phone number on the form you don’t have to. If subsequent to that they have questions about what else you put on the form they’ll visit you in person if they can’t call you on the phone (I will also note that visiting you in person also costs the census more money than a phone call). However, unless your writing is entirely illegible they aren’t likely to call you anyhow, or unless you put down contradictory information or something like that.

It is my understanding that the legal requirement is “Number of persons”.

$500. Although it’s more likely to applied for fraudulent information.



Why do they ask for your name?

Here’s the real reason why you should fill out the extra information (like name, birthdate, relationships, etc): genealogy. As someone who’s done amateur research into my ancestors, census records are very valuable. Do you want to leave a permanent record for your great-grandchildren to find? Your census form is that.

Note that it’s not completely true that census records are kept confidential. There’s a time limit after which the entire form is released. I don’t know the exact period, but it’s something like a century. So don’t worry about your information on it now–but do put it there for your descendants.

72 years.

To make sure that every answer applies to one and only one person.

Please, guys. All damned day I help the most boring people in the world find their ancestors. Do not make my job harder.

One of my roommates was really being a dick about the census form. He refused to fill it out, because he didn’t want to be in that “system”. I pointed out that I already filled out that # of people living here line, so if he didn’t fill it out, I would have to do it for him, so he told me to just put in my previous roommate there.

Okay, so I know his name. I’m pretty sure he’s white. And his birthday (including year) is on his Facebook page. Sorry buddy, but you’re in the system now.

Just incase I did happen to get any of that wrong, are they gonna fine me or him?

The fine is for deliberately fraudulent information, not honest mistakes.

Expanding on Cliffy’s comments —>

Nobody get your personal data. Nobody. Even a warrant or subpoena has no authority with census data. Do the right thing and complete the census form completely, and honestly.

I’m not about to be one of those idiots who refuses to fill out my census form and then complain about taxation without representation, but I don’t think it’s ever been satisfactorily explained why it’s constitutionally kosher for the government to ask about anything that doesn’t directly serve the purpose of congressional apportionment.

No doubt it’s interesting to know the racial demographics of an area, or how many bathrooms people have, or whether they have a mortgage. Other interesting things would be marital status, religious affiliation, political affiliation, approximate net worth, sexual preferences, nationalities, etc.

Needless to say I don’t seriously think the government is entitled to nose around any of this stuff. But given the intrusiveness of the long ACS form, I don’t see any legal protection for the citizen if the government arbitrarily decided they wanted to know the things I listed above. And as I said, I haven’t seen a good constitutional argument for why the government is authorized to gather anything besides names and headcounts.

None of those but race was on the one I filled out.

Article I, Section 2:
“The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

Bolding mine. Congress has the explicit authority to ask whatever census questions it so desires.

As any of the myriad of other Census threads has established, the Census also collects data to ensure compliance with any number of civil rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and who knows what else. This is why they ask for additional information on race. And they do ask about marital status, sort of. (It’s the relationship list.)

The Census also conducts other surveys at the behest of other government agencies. If the Department of Transportation wants to know about average commute times, it can ask the Census to do the survey and gather the information. Even though the question seems silly, it may be important to determine where new highways might be needed.