On Tuesday, the Census Bureau will launch a campaign stressing the importance of counting infants and young children on the forms. As part of Children Count Too, Nickelodeon will broadcast a promotional spot featuring the children's character Dora the Explorer. Census officials say children are undercounted because people in hard-to-count groups, including immigrants and minorities, tend to have more children in their families and because many people do not list babies on the questionnaire.
Just when you thought the Census ads couldn't get any more infantile or irritating. I can't imagine that I'm the only one out there driven to fist-shaking, teeth-gritting, under-my-breath-cursing outrage every time I see or hear one of these ads that seems to portray the Census as your
Not that I'm against the counting mind you. The Census does serve a valuable purpose and in fact I even worked as a manager for the 1990 Census back when I was attending college (hopefully more on that experience that shortly). But do the ads have to so blatantly appeal to our avarice? One of the reasons that we're in the financial mess we're in is the "what's in it for me?" attitude that Americans have developed toward government programs. Whether it's more funding for local schools, extended unemployment benefits, or tax breaks to buy a new home, this "gimme, gimme, gimme...more, more, more" view is pervasive. Even conservatives will often take the tack that "Well, after all these years of paying in, I deserve to get something back." This entitlement mentality results in almost everyone with their hand out and few willing to reach into their own wallet.
Instead of playing to our greed, the Census ads could focus on our patriotism and sense of civic duty. After all, as the Census Bureau's own website notes, the Census is in the Constitution. Maybe they know their target audience well enough to know what really works.