Census and Sensibility

This morning I finally completed a US census questionnaire mailed to me earlier in the month - mailed to me completely at random, or so it stated  - by the US Census Bureau. Literature provided with the survey to entice me to complete the questionnaire (apparently, response is required by law) indicated, "This survey will take about 38 minutes to complete." Well, two weeks later, after digging out last year's tax return, various utility bills, pay stubs, past check registers, etc, etc, etc, I am finally ready to mail it off ... and thereby keep myself out of Federal Census Bureau Prison.

At about the same time I found myself flipping through a copy of Jane Austen's classic novel Sense and Sensibility. And so, with a "what if" scenario brewing in my brow, I wondered what if the US Census Bureau (part of the US Department of Commerce - Economics and Statistics Administration) had a hand in editing Austen's novel. Perhaps this is how it would have turned out (US Census Bureau edits in bold and italics): 

Census and Sensibility -- Chapter 1

"The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex, at least since the 1790 census. Their estate was large - five bedrooms, two and a half baths, two-car garage, $2,500 annual real estate taxes, $300 annual water and sewerage costs - and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner, [X] speaking only English as their primary language, and all members of the family being [X] high school graduates, some with [X] one or more years of college.

"The late owner of this estate was a single man, [X] age 75 years, 6 months, [X] never married, [X] White, yet with traces of [X] American Indian or Alaskan Native heritage, and who, for many years of his life, had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister, [X] Female, [X] White, yet with [X] Native Hawaiian blood due to an extended Pacific holiday.

"But her death, which happened ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his home - he converted over from oil heat to natural gas, added central air, and a hot tub out on the back deck - for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew Mr. Henry Dashwood, to whom he charged monthly rent of $1,200, which included all utilities, cable television, and weekly trash pick up.

"By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son - [X] who lived with him 12 months of the year and [X] does not have any long-lasting medical conditions - by his present lady three daughters, [X] none of whom have given birth to any children in the past 12 months. The son, a steady respectable young man - [X] who served on active duty in the US Armed Forces during the Vietnam era (sometime between August 1964 and April 1975) - was amply provided for by the fortune of his mother, the value of which is [X] $500,000 or more. By his own [X] Marriage / [  ] Divorce / [  ] Separated [  ] Widowed  [  ] Never Married, likewise, which happened soon afterwards, he added to his wealth.

"To him, therefore, the succession to the estate was not so really important as to his sisters, [X] who during the past 12 months each worked 52 weeks of the year as chambermaids at minimum wage plus tips. Their mother had nothing, [X] having been laid off from her cocktail waitress job and [X] informed that she will not be recalled to work in the next six months, yet has been [X] looking for work during the past four weeks, and [X] could start a job immediately if offered one.

"And their father only seven thousand pounds in his own disposal; for the remaining moiety of his first wife's fortune was also secured to her child, and he had only a life-interest in it, with [X] no death benefits, [X] no income from interest or dividends, and [X] no retirement, survivor, or disability pensions."

As you can clearly see, the US Census Bureau's edits provide Austen's work with an added dimension never considered before. Next time, we'll look at Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with edits provided by the US Department of the Interior.

Jack Sheedy

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