Every few days, the Commerce Department threatens to send armed thugs to my apartment to torture me, unless I give in to their demands for my most intimate secrets.
Okay, they didn’t say “armed thugs” exactly, but you know how those jackbooted government agents get, um, overly enthusiastic in their missions. It will all start out nice and friendly, but then I’ll hesitate just a bit too long when they ask about my outhouse and…bam.
In the latest installment of our charmed lives, the Census Bureau selected Jill and me to take part in the American Community Survey, a seriously intrusive census given only to the elitest of the elite. Technically, it is our apartment that is the real honoree and we are just “the resident of,” but why quibble when the fickle finger beckons you to determine the future of the nation?
While the decennial census gets all the hype, the people who fill out the ACS are the real power brokers in the US of A. The regular census next year will ask a few basic questions, but the ACS does all the heavy lifting, including:
The questions kept coming for more than a dozen pages, although my confidence in the entire process took a nosedive at question four, where they asked me for both my date of birth and my age. If they cannot figure out my age from my birth date, the Census Bureau needs a more powerful computer, or a pocket calculator.
Still, we trudged on, describing our condo fees and our internet service and whether we had gotten married or divorced, or both, in the past twelve months. As we worked our way through the labrynthe, though, the reasoning behind the questions got curiouser and curiouser.
Why do they bother to ask if we have indoor plumbing when they already know that 99.5% of households are so equipped? Why do they ask if we can both make and receive a phone call in our apartment? Perhaps there are phones that only receive calls but cannot make them, or vice versa. Why do they ask about babies born to women aged 15-50, but ignore births to females outside that range?
By the time we finished this hours-long exercise, I couldn’t help but think there’s a better way to collect this information. Perhaps, for example, they might buy all of it (and more!!!!) from Facebook or Google—if only they could convince those companies to make our private info available to outsiders.
Worse, I can’t believe these are the most meaningful questions for identifying status and trends across the nation. Many questions seemed to be continuations of past inquiries, but newer shifts appear to be unaddressed.
For example, the survey includes a ton of questions about commuting, including the time people leave for work, how many people are in the vehicle and how long the commute takes, but they don’t ask about ride-share usage or Divvy bikes or whether people have changed jobs or moved in order to reduce their commuting time.
Similarly, we’re bombarded by various stories about the growth and size of the gig economy, but the ACS doesn’t delve into that topic. I didn’t find, for example, a question about whether I have more than one job.
Ditto for the kind of business where I work. While we live in a service economy, the boxes for “type of business” include manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade and “other.” I can’t help but wonder if 70% of us aren’t in the “other” box.
Jill and I trudged through the pages, but I became increasingly convinced that the project included too many vague questions and too much guesswork to be definitive. As I struggled to recall whether I worked for money last month or the month before, a visit from those armed thugs started looking better and better.
Still, we persevered and completed the assignment, because that’s what true patriotic Americans do. And, on the upside, this whole process made our income tax forms look much simpler than they did before.
Even better, my self-esteem grew dramatically as I realized I could come up with a more relevant series of questions than all the people at the Census Bureau. Stay tuned for a preview in next week’s post.
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Despite all my experience as a dad, a grandfather, and occasionally competent human, I’m under-qualified to give a walking tour in Chicago or change diapers at a daycare facility, among other items we learn this week…..
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Even though I’m keeping my reference age fixed in my 40s, I get to feeling old every now and then. And when I do, nothing makes me feel younger than going to a 3 p.m. play and a 5:30 dinner. I might not be young, chronologically, but I am a toddler when you grade it on a curve.
I’ve always been a fan of live theater, for the same reason I give extra cred to anyone who performs without a net. When you see a movie, everyone has had a chance to do each scene over and over and over yet again, and then the editing team gets a shot at making everything fit and, when it doesn’t, insert enough mood music to push home the point. With live theater, they get to do it once and it will never be done the same way again. Different production companies and directors will stage the shows differently, which is a Rohrshach test for them and an opportunity for new perspectives for me.
The biggest thrill about going to the theater, though, is feeling young again. I’ve been to hospitals with fewer oxygen tanks. Nationally, the average theater goer is in her mid-40s, although I think the number jumps to 80 when you exclude Hamilton. At matinees, it’s about 82.
Theater companies bemoan the steady aging of their demographic, but they cater to it as well. Why wouldn’t you do a revival of South Pacific for people who served during World War II? How can you pass up Oklahoma when your audience remembers that great territory becoming a state in 1907?
Theater companies are fans of recycling because old musicals pay the rent and newer stuff mewls and pukes before it dies. Most new stuff deserves a painful death, though, because almost all of it is pretty crappy. Jill and I go to a dozen plays each year and, about 80% of the time, I am ready to leave after five minutes. My rule is simple: If I don’t care if any of the characters lives or dies, I am gone.
Jill and I are pretty hip for old farts, so occasionally we end up in some place that appeals to a slightly younger crowd. We’ll scan the room as we enter and Jill will say 27, which is the difference in age between us and the next oldest person in the room. Being in a room with younger people makes us feel younger than sitting in the theater with even older farts than ourselves.
They say you should hang out with people who are younger than you are so that you stay fresh and energized. Sounds good, but I started thinking about our friends and….wait a minute…for most of them, WE are the younger people making THEM feel good about themselves. Thank God for grandchildren. Otherwise, we’d be screwed.
Right now, I’m thinking about building a roster of younger people to buddy up to in order to renew my Qi (great WWF word), even as I plan on rationing my availability to the octogenarians who have been draining the life force from my faltering soul. And, I really need to book more time with the grandchildren.
Who knew aging could be a competitive sport?
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Great stories from the driver’s seat, online playgrounds, and the new vigilance that’s the price of liberty, included in this week’s array of helpful hints…
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You know that thing that happens when you buy a new car and, suddenly, you see the same model car everywhere you go and it seems the car must be much more popular than it was before you bought it?
Except, of course, that it isn’t any more or less popular, but you are more sensitive to sighting than you ever were previously? There’s probably a scientific term for this, but I’m too lazy to look it up, so we’ll just call it purchase affirmation for the next 400 words.
It turns out that purchase affirmation is about much more than purchases. We fall victim, or victors, as we pass through life stages, as well. When I was younger, I didn’t think anyone had problems with their prostate. Now, I think everyone is urinologically challenged. Thirty years ago, I thought fertility rates were increasing, largely because everyone I knew was having children.
The list of perceptions is endless. Sometimes we’re right and sometimes wrong, but the accuracy of our conclusions will flow more with our station in life than the underlying trends. Are most baby boomers downsizing? Many of my friends are doing so, which means this must be the case. Is Iceland the hottest new vacation spot in the world? I know three couples that visited in the past year, so I will say yes, it is.
Some of our purchase affirmation results from the decision to make the leap. When we lived in the suburbs, we didn’t know many people who had sold the house and moved to the city. After we sold the house and moved to the city, though, we were surrounded by others who had made the same leap, so it was clearly more of a trend than we realized earlier.
Purchase affirmation is a warm fuzzy, because it makes us feel better about our choices. When we leased an Acura, I started seeing more Acuras on the road. This perception made me feel like I was part of a hip new trend. Heck, maybe I was driving that trend, because I didn’t see this many Acuras until AFTER I had signed the lease.
At the same time, purchase affirmation is a trickster, convincing us of untruths and leading us to make bad decisions. I’ve made more than a handful of bad investment decisions on the basis of my incredible observational skills, applied to a minuscule sample. Too frequently, I have perceived the wisdom of crowds when I should have recognized herd mentality.
Purchase affirmation is harmless, as long as we recognize it for the mind game that it is. Lately, though, I have noticed more and more people who believe their decisions are changing the world. Clearly, this is a trend we need to address quickly.
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The secrets of great leaders, the absence of sex questions on Jeopardy, and making plans for a killer eulogy, all submitted for your intellectual stimulation this week…
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.