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Americans required to answer personal census questions

Posted June 5, 2009

— When the U.S. Census Bureau comes knocking, you need to start talking – even if you think the questions are too personal.

Dale Osbourne, of Chapel Hill, said he expects to fill out the standard 10-question census form and give the government such information as his name, address and how many people live in his household.

"Maybe my age. After that, I'd start wondering," Osbourne said.

But he could become one of the citizens asked by the Census Bureau to fill out the American Community Survey. Residents like Osbourne would then have to answer more personal questions, broaching such topics as income and spending habits.

Census 2010 forms You better answer if Census Bureau comes knocking

"I would not be real inclined to give that information up freely. I'd probably want to explore what rights I had in that situation," Osbourne said.

His rights wouldn't include the right to refuse to fill out either census form, officials said.

"It really is in your own best interest to fill out the forms, but there is technically a penalty if you don't fill them out," said Bob Coats, the governor's census liaison.

And what happens if you don't?

"You will get follow-up visits from census workers knocking on your doors, asking you the same questions," Coats said. They will also call people who fail to send in the American Community Survey.

After that comes a $100 fine for skipping out on the forms. A $500 fine is the penalty for providing false information.

Coats said the government isn't trying to be nosy, but the survey provides important information that is used to distribute $300 billion in federal money properly. States and local communities also use the survey data for planning, he said.

"This is how we know who we are, how we know what the needs of our community are," Coats said.

Osbourne said that the specter of a fine is enough motivation to answer some questions, even if he doesn't understand why they are so personal.

"I guess if I was told I had to tell, I'd tell," he said.

All Census Bureau employees will have a badge number that can be verified with your local census office. Coats said you can also call local law enforcement if you feel that someone's claim to be a census worker is questionable.


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  • Iworkforaliving Jun 5, 2009

    simple, don't answer the door, use caller ID. True you will get billed in the mail for the 100$ and unfortunately they can probably fine you until you do answer, but what choice do we have? Change, who was he kidding?

  • alhight Jun 5, 2009

    Name rank and serial number only.

  • hdonthefarm Jun 5, 2009

    Even with the economy the way it is, I think I could come up with the $100 to pay the fine for refusing. It's none of their business!!

  • whatelseisnew Jun 5, 2009

    They will get from me the same information they got last time. That is one answer. The number of people that live at my address. Last time I basically threw the Census guy off my property because he got pushy. After I told him three times I would not provide any additional answer, I told him to get off my property and I was not polite when I did it. The fact that they want to use the information they collect to distribute money they do not have in the first place is just one of the reasons I will not answer anything beyond what a census is supposed to be. 1 question that receives 1 answer. They are wasting billions to do this and again that is money they do not have. They are needlessly hiring temporary workers to do this nonsense and wasting our money.

  • NCTar Jun 5, 2009

    Fine me, I'll pay it, Leave me alone.

  • colliedave Jun 5, 2009

    The "right to privacy" has given us abortion on demand. Pray tell, why are we required to divulge this information? Where is the ALCU on this issue? Why does the government need this information?

  • kandykisses Jun 5, 2009

    This is wrong on so many levels!!

  • dcblackburn1963 Jun 5, 2009

    what a joke! i want to be taken to court on this one!