By Hannah Berman

Last week I discovered a large envelope in my mailbox. At first I thought it was medication sent from my mail-away pharmacy. But this rather heavy envelope didn’t resemble the packages in which my medication usually arrives. Also, I had not recently placed an order for medication. When I tore open this mysterious envelope, I got something of a surprise. It was a census form, something I had not seen in many years.

Either my memory has failed, or the census bureau has sent a far more complicated form this time. As I recall, the last census form consisted of only one or two pages asking for my name, address, and age. What I now received was a whole other ballgame! I was unable to answer several of the questions, as I do not know what year my house was built, nor do I remember the year my husband and I moved into it. The questions were not only endless, but also, in my humble opinion, pointless.

The reason the envelope was so heavy is because it contained a 15-page form. I have not had to answer so many questions since I applied for life insurance. What frightened me was the message on the back of the envelope, stating that this form must be completed and sent in under penalty of law. Oy vey!

The questions seemed endless. They were repetitive and intrusive. The print was small so I hunted for my glasses. When I was finally able to see the questions, I could not believe my eyes. If I filled out this form by truthfully answering all of the questions, I likely would not complete it until the year 2032, when the next census will be taken. But if I do not complete it and send it back in the envelope provided, I will, according to Google, be subject to a $100 penalty. Actually, that’s good news since I was worried that the penalty would be jail time.

There were a few good things about these census questions. For example, I was not asked the color of my mother-in-law’s eyes, or what I typically eat for breakfast (I eat something different every morning). I do not have to fill in how much each of my children weighed at birth (I do not remember who weighed what). But best of all, it does not ask how much I weigh. Had that been one of the questions, I would have torn up the entire form, page by page. Unfortunately, the form asked for answers about everything else. Half the questions I could not answer and the other half I would not answer.

A week has passed and I have still not completed the form. At this point, I am debating whether I should just give up and pay the $100 fine. Because I wondered if I was alone with this conundrum, I made a few inquiries and, much to my surprise, I learned that several of the people I called did not fill out the form and have no intention of doing so. It appears that if the census bureau is on top of their form they will be collecting a lot of $100 checks. I will give it one more try, but I may write out a check for the $100 just in case anyone comes after me due to my lack of response.

Despite kvetching about this form, I fully acknowledge the importance of a census. The goal of the census is to count people living in the U.S. and to use that number to determine representation in Congress. However, over the years, there has been controversy about how data is collected and what kind of information the census asks people to provide—and I am among those who question the type of information requested.

These forms are sent out randomly and not everyone receives one. However, I was among the chosen this year. That’s just the way it is.


Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and can be reached at or 516-295-4435. Read more of Hannah Berman’s articles on


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