Yesterday I received my 2010 Census form in the mail. Didn’t I just read somewhere that they were looking for census workers to knock on doors and ask personal questions? So then wherefore this form in my mailbox?
Presumably, someone will ring my bell shortly to inquire whether I had liked its font and the design with its light-blue background, and whether I found the Start here at the top enlightening or perplexing given the omission of a matching Stop here at the bottom of the final page. After all, without having been told when to stop, I might have plowed through the end of the form like a Toyota on steroids and kept checking imaginary boxes until my pen ran out of black or blue ink.
So most likely, the door-knocking wetware will be deployed to collect feedback on the forms; to make sure people received, understood, completed, and returned them; and perhaps to elicit one or the other confession about failure to report illegal live-ins.
At first blush, counting the dwellers at one’s residence sounds like a straightforward enterprise. Not so fast: the form instructs me to count the people living in this house, apartment, or mobile home using our guidelines, so I’m not supposed to run off half-cocked and blithely start counting calvaria without having familiarized myself with a few procedural pitfalls. I am furthermore enjoined to perform the count before I answer Question 1 (“Number of people”). I appreciate the heads-up, for I get easily confused about sequence of operation in matters like these.
The guidelines inform me that babies are people and must be included in the count, a rather thinly veiled pro-life message snuck into a government-issued form. Very clever, but probably unconstitutional. I thought the Bush years were over. I guess not.
Regarding each resident’s race, the first two options are:
- Black, African Am., or Negro
Obviously, the use of the term Negro on the Census form has stirred up some controversy. A Census Bureau spokesperson pointed out that many older African-Americans identified themselves that way and that those who did needed to be included. That’s very thoughtful, but I happen to identify myself as European American, not as a piece of chalk. I’m feeling excluded, and I demand an explanation from the Census Bureau.
Forms are fascinating. Prior to scoring my Green Card, I lived in the United States on various visas. On every visa application form I had to check a series of yes-or-no questions, such as whether I was a Fascist, a Communist, or a terrorist planning to carry out assassinations upon my arrival in the U.S. Of course, under no circumstance would any visa applicant ever answer any of these silly questions in the affirmative, least of all terrorists planning to carry out assassinations. So why bother asking these questions in the first place? For legal reasons, so that an additional six months for lying on a visa application could be slapped onto the defendant’s life sentence?
(When I finally became eligible for Permanent Residence status, I was required to fly to Austria for my so-called “Green Card Interview” at the U.S. Consulate in Vienna. The only question I was asked at this exhaustive “interview,” which I had to travel thousands of miles to subject myself to, was whether I belonged to any of a particular selection of terrorist organizations. I said no and received my Green Card.)
For a few years I was actually rich enough to afford health insurance under Healthy New York, a state-sponsored program that makes available health plans at a discount for low income earners, so I was eligible to receive Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage for about 200 bucks a month. Every year I had to submit a re-certification form to show that I was still low-income enough to qualify.
On the first page of my annual two-page Blue Cross re-certification form I was asked to provide some personal information, such as name, address, policy number, and the like. What puzzled me was that in parentheses next to the word address it said where you live. I could never figure out who might have been the target audience for this parenthetical definition. After all, those who may have had trouble understanding the term address probably wouldn’t have understood where and live, either, let alone any of the other words on the form, like name, for instance, the precise meaning of which was entirely left to the form-completing party to figure out—no what it says in your passport next to “Name” in parentheses. Those who may have thought address meant e-mail address most likely also thought name referred to their Match.com handles, so clarification would have been in order on both counts.
On page 2 I had to provide my current monthly gross income. It seems that whoever drafted the form considered it necessary to clarify the term address so even a capuchin monkey would understand it, but at the same time figured that the meaning of current monthly gross income—which can be defined and calculated about 9,000 different ways—was as limpid as the surface of a mountain mere on a windless summer morning.
The word monthly, in particular the ending -ly, implies that more than one month is involved. Otherwise the form would simply ask to provide the current month’s gross income. Now if, as is quite common, one works a job—or even several jobs—where one’s monthly income varies wildly, monthly necessarily implies the average income of (1+x) number of months. So at the very least, current monthly can be defined as this month’s and last month’s gross income added together and divided by two. But what’s the current month as regards income?
On March 17th, for instance, is the current month simply March, even though we’re only halfway through and my crystal ball is in hock so I can’t predict how much I’ll make during the remaining half, or is it the past 30 days as counted backwards from today, in which latter case the current month would be defined as the period from February 18th to March 17th? Or does February count as the current month as it happens to be the last completed calendar month on record?
Moreover, the average of how many past months can reasonably be regarded as one’s current monthly income? What if I totaled up my gross income for the past six months and divided it by six? Eight months divided by eight? Twelve months divided by twelve? What if I simply took last year’s adjusted gross income from my tax return and divided it by twelve? Would that be current enough even though the figure thus arrived would not include my earnings since December 31st? If not, could I simply add my January and February earnings to last year’s adjusted gross income and divided the result by 14?
Unless someone has some sort of conventional and permanent job with a fixed salary except for perhaps getting a raise every few years, each of these calculations may yield a vastly different figure for current monthly gross income. In fact, what if I added up all the money I ever made and divided it by my age multiplied by twelve? In a macro sense, that too could be regarded as my current monthly income of sorts, as none of my past lifetimes would be included.
In late 2007, in one of several endearingly clumsy attempts of mine to quit restaurants for good, I decided to become a real estate agent in New York City. There was method to my desperation: I figured either (a) I’d get lucky and make a killing in real estate, or (b) I’d crash and burn so badly and get myself so deeply into personal debt in the process that I wouldn’t possibly be able dig myself out of the hole by waiting tables again, in which case I’d be forced to come up with something far more ingenious and, hopefully, more spiritually satisfying. Needless to say, I quickly accomplished option (b). (At present, I am still waiting for that wave of unprecedented ingenuity emerging from within myself which, according to my plan, is supposed to save me.)
The point being, I worked as a real estate agent for the first eight months of 2008. In January, I made zero. February, zero. March, zero. April, $4,000. May, zero. June, zero. July, zero. August, zero. Ergo, from January to August 2008 I raked in exactly $4,000, and all of it in April. What was my current monthly income if, say, in early May I sat down to complete my Blue Cross re-certification form? Would it have been 4,000 divided by 5, given that it was May? Or 4,000 divided by 4 1/2, given that May wasn’t over yet? Or was it $4,000 divided by 2, given that two months are the minimum number of months required to satisfy the definition of monthly?
Bottom line, defining current monthly gross income would have made a lot more sense that defining address. As a client, of course, I appreciated the opportunity to supply my own definition of current monthly gross income each year such that my income so derived always fell below the threshold the exceeding of which would have quadrupled my monthly premium.
But perhaps Blue Cross deliberately refrains from defining current monthly gross income precisely in order to encourage their clients to use creative accounting methods so as to come in below the threshold. After all, unambiguous non-eligibility would cause most folks to cancel their insurance altogether rather than pay three or four times as much as they paid before. At least if they’re given some wiggle-room in the monthly income department, they’ll stay on the rolls. Better to cash in a small premium from a client than to lose him altogether.
Health insurance. The good old times. For now, I just hope I won’t hurt myself while blogging until Obamacare kicks in.
So I’ll go ahead and fill out my pretty light-blue two-page Census form as a warm-up, and then I’ll tackle the two-inch stack of Chapter 7 paperwork. Not having embarked on either project yet, I don’t mean to jump to hasty conclusions, but simply counting the number of people living in my apartment—even if I have to include all the babies—sounds somewhat less of a hassle than making a list of my possessions and then calculating the value of every book, T-shirt, and spare set of guitar strings I (still) own.
So many important-looking forms are piling up on my desk right now, a casual visitor may get the mistaken impression that I actually I have a job or something.
- Address (where you live)
- Park (where you are about to live)
- Bridge (a type of ceiling)
Tags: Words & Language