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In Search of Census Consensus

In Search of Census Consensus
By Jean Hay
Enterprise Editorial
Dec. 3, 1998

The Supreme Court is poised to decide, in advance of the Year 2000 census, if statistical sampling fulfills the constitutional requirement for an "actual enumeration of the population" every decade.

While good points can be made on both sides of this issue, political considerations which don't belong have been mucking up the arguments--most notably Republicans worried that census takers will discover pockets of poor and underprivileged people who will suddenly decide to vote Democratic in the next election, after the new boundaries for legislative districts are drawn up. With more than half the known eligible voting population staying home every election day, this argument just doesn't fly.

Of course what really is going on is that some in Congress don't really want to know how many poor people are out there who might be in desperate need of government assistance of one form or another.

Which brings us to Social Security. The individual Social Security number is all-pervasive--every person who has ever been employed has one. Legal immigrants have them. Illegal immigrants get them to pass as legal. Now even infants and children must have them to qualify as IRS exemptions. Don't we, therefore, already have a running head-count?

Why isn't the Social Security list used as a baseline, with the once-a-decade census functioning as a verification of that huge database? After all, the only thing the Constitution requires is a head count. Name and address. Who and where. All the other pieces of information that the Census Bureau collects (or that the Social Security Administration already has, such as our dates of birth) is helpful to various agencies and policy-makers, but irrelevant to the constitutional requirement.

We already have the information we need. We should use it.

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