The American Community Survey and Me

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So, this came in the mail last week. It’s the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. As a journalist who sometimes tries to extract useful information about my community, state and nation from the census data, I thought, “Cool! Now I’m going to be part of that data.” Of course, the envelope, with the notice “your response is required by law,” makes it sound less cool. Still, I am a sucker for some (not all) of the rites of citizenship, so I dived into the survey.

One glitch I encountered: One is encouraged to fill out the survey online. No problem — I live online. But after you sign in with your unique ID at the outset of the process, a personal identification number is displayed with an advisory that you’ll need it if you need to sign out in the middle of the estimated 40-minute process. Of course, I didn’t write down the PIN, had to sign out, and then was unable to sign back in to finish the survey. The Census Bureau can’t (or won’t) reset the PIN. So if you want to continue, you have to call and get the agency to reset the survey and start over.

Wanting to provide the response required by law, I called, got the PIN reset, and started the survey over. It was all pretty simple stuff –information on race, ethnic background, how long I’ve lived where I’ve lived, whether I rent or own, how much I pay for utilities, how much I pay for housing, income data. Then there was a series of questions about disabilities, including this:

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I’d suggest a third choice for the answer: “Not yet.”

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