Bob Bestler

Is there something a little funny with the 2019 census or is that just status quo?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the 2020 census.

Should the census ask if a person is a citizen or not? Would such a question frighten non-citizens into avoiding the local census takers and thus distort the populations in states and districts? And would that benefit Republicans and hurt Democrats?

Or is the whole census issue, in the word used by Chief Justice Roberts, contrived?

Well, all those questions are above my pay grade, but one question has always perplexed me:

Why did Commerce Department insist that the 2020 Census had to begin printing on July 1, 2019? I’ve been in the newspaper business long enough to know that some printing presses can put out 100,000 newspapers in an hour. So what’s the rush?

Well, buckos, my friendly Washington Post has come to the rescue.

The Post found the answer in a Government Printing Office RFP (Request for Proposal) document used to solicit bids for the job. It showed the staggering number of documents needed for the next census:

  • About 117 million English language questionnaires, each eight pages long.
  • 21 million bilingual questionnaires, each 16 pages long.
  • 385 million single-sheet letters.
  • 273 million inserts.
  • 209 million postcards.
  • 522 million envelopes of various sizes.
  • Add it up and that makes about 1.53 billion distinct pieces of material — 2 billion when various other pages of questionnaires are produced. Post reporter Philip Bump added: “When I started writing this article, there were 15.5 million seconds left until the new year. That means one printer would need to print more than 130 items every second to finish the job before the ball drops in Times Square.”

    The staggering numbers don’t stop there.

    The documents will take almost 300 billion square inches of paper, enough to cover — cover! — 74.6 square miles.

    And the paper requirements could take down between 160,000 and 320,000 trees.

    OK, OK, I get it. So let’s get those presses humming. We’re wasting valuable seconds.

    Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net

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