In Defense of the Census

I found the Census Bureau's Super Bowl commercial to be sufficiently entertaining (at least compared to what you might expect from one of the stereotypically most boring agencies in the government). Watch:

Conservatives aren't entertained, though. Pundits on Fox are up-in-arms over wasteful spending. John McCain is already working an angle for his next campaign.

But this is all too simple minded. Anyone who has done research with decennial Census data knows that it is one of (if not the) most powerful tools we have to analyze demographic and social trends, and that's aside from the important political implications an accurate count has for local governments and citizens. Unfortunately, counting people isn't as simple as it should be, and it costs real money, a lot of money, to run the Census.

At first, I wondered what business the Census Bureau had advertising at all, until someone pointed out the obvious fact that it costs more money to send a Census worker to someone's house than to get their form in the mail. Not to mention the fact that door-to-door counters are known to be less accurate, especially when they're sent into neighborhoods where they don't necessarily feel the most comfortable.

In the scheme of things, the $2.5 million is only a tiny fraction of the total cost the federal government will pony up to operate the Census this year. If that $2.5 million means we get a better, more accurate count, then I can defend that.