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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Who Counts?

My reactions to Anderson and Feinberg's book are very similar to many of the reactions already listed on the blog. Although I knew that the census determined the number of political seats for each state, I never actually considered that this fact makes the census a highly political undertaking. I think that Anderson and Feinberg really illustrate this point, that the census and its political impacts are not something that citizens really sit down and ponder when they say: "One can argue that the census instrument has served the country so well, in fact, that its impact on American politics is almost invisible...there is little historical memory of prior census controversies or, in fact, the origins of the current one." (220) The fact that the politics of census taking is so invisible should be surprising considering the fact that the average American history class will teach you about the 3/5 rule. The census is so under our radars that we don't even question whether or not the census is still overlooking certain polulations and favoring others.

That leads me to my next comment, which is about the issue of race in the census. Listing sex, birthdate, and race on a form has become so common, that I never even stopped to consider when and why this became the norm. I was also really interested in the tables on 177 and over the next few pages, and how the tables list fewer age cohorts for both "slaves" and "free colored persons" than for white men. In some cases white women are given fewer age cohorts as well. As for the upcoming census, I wonder if listing ethinicity instead of race really will impact the response rate and how people respond to that series of questions.

Overall, I was (not so) surprised to learn that Congress opted for the more expensive, inaccurate and inefficient method of collecting census data. Science and statistics has proved time and time again that sampling can be an accurate method of counting and evaluating. I think that I agree with the 1997 Panel to Evaluate Alternative Census Methodologies: "Change is not the enemy of an accurate and useful census; rather, not changing methods as the United States changes would inevitably result in a seriously degraded census." (208)


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