Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fun Facts About the Census

I must confess, one of the reasons why I am so engrossed in the issue of the long-form census is that I am a genealogist. And not just as a hobby - I've actually gotten paid to do research for others and even compiled a 1,300 page, 5 volume genealogy of the Truax family.

In other words, I know my census records.

So when people react with shock and dismay over the personal, intrusive questions in the census long form and moan over how this is the evil work of our modern bloated bureaucracy run amok, I have a hard time buying it. After all, these types of questions are hardly new.

Here are a few fun census facts:

~ The earliest census records include only the name of the head of the household - the remaining family members are listed only by gender and age range. Starting in 1841 in Great Britain, 1850 in the U.S. and 1851 in Canada, names of all family members were recorded - although not the names of slaves in the U.S.

~ The U.S. Census has always asked for 'race' (white, black, mulatto, later other races). The Canadian Census has always asked for 'origin', as in ethnic origin (English, German, Chinese, etc.), and didn't start asking for 'colour' until 1901.

~ The Canadian Census has always asked for 'religion' (this, along with 'origin', is a very useful marker for genealogists tracing a single family - especially one named 'Smith'). The U.S. Census has never asked for religion. Neither had the UK census until 2001.

~ As early as 1850, the U.S. census asked for things like 'value of real estate', literacy, and 'Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict'.

~ The U.S. and Canadian census records list people where they normally reside, whereas the U.K. census lists people wherever they spent the night before. They always have.

- By 1901, the census for Canada included 36 columns of detailed questions about education level, employment and language. The 1900 U.S. census had 28 columns and asked for things like birth place of mother and father, number of children and number of children still living, and whether the property was rented, owned free or mortgaged.

~ Almost all census years have included a farm schedule / agricultural census that asks for details on acreage, crops, livestock, etc. Apparently Tony Clement still believes that this information is so important that it will continue to be a mandatory part of the census.

~ As of this year, the U.S. has replaced their long form census with a rolling "Community Survey" that goes out continually to 250,000 household per month. It is still mandatory, and asks for more information at a greater frequency of polling than the long form.

Just thought you should know.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Harper's Idiocracy

One thing you've got to love about Libertarian-leaning Conservatives: they have absolutely no sense of irony.

James Travers has yet another excellent op-ed in The Star today on the census, where he elaborates on the difference between facts and truthiness:

In an instructive moment here a couple of years ago, Harper encouraged loyalists to ignore experts and go with their gut.

On that particular brisk Ottawa winter afternoon the issue of the day was crime. Despite falling rates, Harper was promoting a toss-away-the-key agenda that’s now forecast to add a staggering $5 billion annually to the tax bill of a nation already deep in deficit.

Focusing on feel-good retribution instead of effective rehabilitation isn’t just costly; it’s a proven U.S. failure. Still, keeping more people in jail longer easily passes the conventional wisdom test. Debunking it requires a hurts-the-head explanation too long and layered to fit on a campaign bumper sticker.

Crime is far from the only example of the partisan benefits of preaching simple solutions to complex problems. From climate-change denial to straw man attacks on a long-gun registry police chiefs insists saves lives, comforting illusions are routinely pitted against inconvenient truths.

And then of course some earnest soul comes along in the comments and precisely proves his point:

Straight Shooter
Jul 8, 2010 9:57 AM

Look at the 'agree' and 'disagree' percentages on the posts in this column. Your answer is right there. The reason why we not only 'tollerate' Harper but in fact support him is that there are (sightly or significantly) more Conservatives than Liberals and in our democratic society, that means we can do almost anything we want.

I had sworn off commenting on these things, but I did make an exception just to point out that if this guy honestly believes that comments on an online news forum represent a statistically accurate sample than he may well have a job waiting for him at the New Conservative Statistics Canada.

Monday, July 5, 2010

On the Census

To: Milton Champion - Editor
Cc: Lisa Raitt , Tony Clement

Next year, Canadians will once again be required to fill out our census forms and be counted. But thanks to a decision by Industry Minister Tony Clement, some of us may count less than others.

Mr. Clement has decided that the long form census, which asks more detailed questions about income, employment, housing, immigration status, etc., will be replaced with a voluntary "household survey". Apparently some people find the questions on the long form to be too 'intrusive' and don't like being required to fill them out.

One wonders how they feel about filling out their tax forms every year.

Making the long form census voluntary may seem like a minor change, but it will have a huge negative impact on the quality of the census data because the people who tend to benefit the most from social programs such as recent immigrants, aboriginal Canadians, the poor and the disadvantaged, are the very ones who would be least likely to fill out a voluntary survey. This would skew the results to the point of making them useless.

We would essentially be basing vital government policy decisions on the equivalent of an online poll.

Accurate, detailed census data is crucial to allocating government funding and services. Federal, provincial, and municipal governments all use this data to identify which neighbourhoods require things like immigrant services, low income housing, child care and transit, as well as determining demographic changes and the efficacy of social programs over time.

Our own town councillors and staff make regular use of census data when making planning and budgeting decisions. They also use it to bolster their case when applying to other levels of government for funding for things like the hospital expansion.

Mr. Clement's ill-conceived, irresponsible and costly decision has been condemned by everyone from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to the former head of Statistics Canada. I join them in urging the Minister and his government to reverse this decision now.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Big Picture

This may be the sanest explanation I've read so far for why Black Bloc tactics are not just wrong, but ultimately counter-productive. From Thomas Walcom:

Two things stand out from the street riots and subsequent police actions that swept downtown Toronto last weekend.

The first is the state blatantly abused its powers. Summits legitimately require security; but in this one, governments went over the top.

...The second is that most people don’t care. Polls show that more than 70 per cent of Torontonians approve of these abuses.

For that we can thank the small group of rioters who burned police cars and smashed store windows last Saturday. The logic behind those actions (and yes there is a logic) flows from the theory that capitalism is based on violence, albeit violence that is usually veiled. By provoking the state, this intrinsic violence will be revealed, thereby radicalizing the population against both capitalism and the state.

The problem with this theory, as the Red Brigades and other left-wing terrorists found in the 1970s, is that such provocations drive the general population to authoritarianism, not revolution.

Faced with a choice between order and civil liberties, people almost invariably choose order. Think the Nazis in 1930s Germany; think the PATRIOT Act in post 9/11 America.

Which is why most people figured out long ago that non-violent resistance is a far more effective way to provoke a response, expose the intrinsic violence of the state, and (most importantly) gain the support of the public.

Here endeth the lesson.