The Census Done Cheap and Easy

According to, the 2000 census cost American taxpayers $4.5 billion — or $15.99 per person. This year, that cost is projected to have nearly tripled to $14.5 billion — $46.93 per person. It’s going to take months, it will require door-to-door canvassing, and a market blitz to ensure people don’t throw away their forms upon receiving them. Plus, there’s the concern that some of the questions are simply too intrusive for a mere counting of the population.

It seems to me that in this century there ought to be a cheaper, faster way to do something so simple. In fact, I’m sure there is.

Aren’t we all supposed to apply for a Social Security card shortly after birth? And don’t we get a death certificate when we die, which is also sent to the SSA? The answers are “Yes” and “Yes.” Every year I get a birthday card (three months early) from my friendly neighborhood Social Security Administration, giving me the cheery optimistic outlook on my retirement, should I choose to continue working to age 108. That I receive this in the mail means (a) the SSA knows who I am, (b) the SSA knows where I live, and (c) the SSA knows how old I am — all of which is information kept in a great big bank of computer storage somewhere in the bowels of the administration building.

It seems to me that some clever person might take advantage of this information to streamline a few government processes — particularly the census. Perhaps something like this:

SELECT count(*) as sub_total
               , city
               , state
               , district
               , age
               , gender
               , eeoc_code
          , state
          , district
          , (current date – date_of_birth in years) as age
          , gender
          , eeoc_code
FROM ssa.master_table
WHERE date_of_death is null
AS ssa_census_table
GROUP BY state, district, age, gender, eeoc_race
ORDER BY state, district, age, gender, eeoc_race

Yes, that’s the US Census, conducted by a single person who never left his office. Depending on how well the tables are indexed, the query would produce results in… well, certainly less than a few days, and that’s being pretty liberal as an estimate.

(Note to the Census folks: All this code can be yours for only one-tenth of the cost planned to be spent on this year’s census. You’re welcome.)


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