How I missed this, I don’t know, but here’s the deal: if you’re an American living abroad, and you weren’t physically in the United States on April 1, then you will not be counted in the 2010 US census (in fact, you would’ve only been counted in the 1960 and 1970 censuses). Exceptions are made for federal employees and military personnel who can be assigned to states. Why this injustice? It’s hard (just you try and find all the Americans in Shanghai), and expensive (as in, US$1450 per counted American), as this 2004 GAO report outlines. It’s a surprisingly good read, actually, especially the bit about the “overseas marketing firm” hired to spread the word among Americans in France, Kuwait, and Mexico that a census was taking place. The experience with said firm should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever asked someone else to leave fliers for them in expat-oriented establishments:
However, at 21 sites we visited, we found various discrepancies between what the public relations firm indicated had occurred, and what actually took place. For example, while the firm’s tracking system indicated that questionnaires would be available at a restaurant and an English-language bookstore in Guadalajara, none were present.
Likewise, in Paris, we went to several locations where the tracking system indicated that census information would be available. None was. In fact, at some of these sites, not only was there no information about the census, but there was no indication that the organization we were looking for resided at the address we had from the database.
That’s a good one.
Anyway, I’d be more sympathetic to the plight of the Census Bureau if it weren’t for the fact that every American abroad I’ve met in the last ten years is connected to this thing called the Internet which, so far as I can tell, ensures two-way communications between them and government agencies that handle things like, I dunno, taxes and voting. I’m sure it comes with its own problems, but for the love of god and country, it surely gives a more accurate picture (at cheaper than US$1450/head) than whistling down the street, pretending that the only Americans abroad are those on the federal payroll! [update: or a dependent of someone on the federal payroll]
In the meantime, funny to think that – for the next ten years – I am an “uncounted and unenumerated” American. Thought: does that do anything to help me with the two unpaid Minneapolis parking tickets I acquired in February?
[UPDATE: A quick clarification posted in response to Zach‘s good comment and question, below. I’m not asking to be counted as an ‘American abroad,’ per se. Instead, like federal employees and military personnel who fill out the forms when abroad, I’m asking to be counted as a resident of my home state. In my case, Minnesota. It makes sense: after all, I’m a Minnesota voter, tax payer, and driver’s license holder. Why, then, shouldn’t the state have the opportunity to count me as its own in a census that determines, eventually, the boundaries of my legislative district, among other matters? At the same time, I do think there’s value in having demographic data on Americans living abroad.]