Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Census and Life in Transition

The 2010 US Census forms have started arriving. For those of us who have experienced a major transition since the last time we filled out a Census questionnaire this might be a task that brings unexpected emotional reactions.

For the average American the decennial taking of the population census is mostly a few minutes annoyance though there are always a few who proclaim loud and long about its invasion of privacy. There was a time, that even I remember, when the Census was taken totally by interviewers who went from household to household and everybody answered all of the long form questions; but now it is fairly painless by comparison.

Today, and actually for several decades now, the Census is largely a mail-in form divided between two versions; long or short. This is the fourth Census I have participated in as an adult and this is my fourth short form. It will also be the year of the fewest entries I have ever made to a census form; and therein lie the emotional trip-wires.

One of the things the Census is designed to track is “how is the population transitioning?” If the population were stagnate there would be no reason to take a new census since the previous could just be copied and submitted. But things do change in both expected and unexpected ways. These changes and shifts affect the communities and resources where they take place regardless of whether they are positive or negative changes.

Filling in a Census form can be a time of personal reflection on the changes the past 10 years have brought in our lives. Of course it can be a time of positive validation if this is your first Census as an emancipated adult or as married or as a new parent or as a homeowner instead of a renter. But, what about the rest of us?

What about those of us whose changes since the last Census have been difficult or painful? What about those who have lost a spouse or other family or household member since the previous Census; or who have gone through a divorce or dissolution; or whose last child has left home to strike out on their own; or who has had to leave homeownership for renting?

Filling out the Census form can be just another reminder of how much has been lost; or, it can reinforce how far we have come since the loss and that maybe we still have some work to do in moving forward. Yes, it depends on one’s point of view but it is also a choice. So from which end of the Census telescope will you choose to see your life transition; as growth or as decay?

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US Census Bureau

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