Minding Everyone Else`s Business

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Published: March 20,2000

1) If I gave you $1,200 to spend on your community, what would you do with it?

“Build a park.”

“Buy books for schools.”

“Help the needy.”

“Fix potholes.”

2) What would you do if I gave you $12,000?

“Donate it somewhere.”

“Help the Humane Society.”

“Give a student loan.”

“Pay off my credit card.”

3) How about a $1.2 million?

“Build better roads.”

“Build better schools.”

“Add more policemen.”

“Cut taxes.”

4) Would you work for 10 minutes to earn that money?

“Sure.”

“Probably.”

“What’s the catch?”

“I’m not sleeping with you.”

5) Would you sing “Living La Vida Loca” three times in a row over the PA system at Wal-Mart for $1 million?

“Yes.”

“Yes — if no one could see me.”

“I don’t know the words.” We’ll give you sheet music. “Okay.”

“This is for the million, right?”

The study of human behavior is a queer science — as logical as it is illogical, silly as it is serious, patterned as it is chaotic. From these five previous questions we can ascertain a few things:

A) People will do silly things for money: wear clown suits, yodel “Dixie,” sell junk bonds, bet on lucky 13, work in Hollywood, parade themselves on national TV with 49 other women — in other words, the usual. While this makes for ratings-grabbing TV shows and “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” it doesn’t usually happen in the real world.

B) Happily, another common trait in human behavior, though sometimes lacking in this day in age, is people will help other people – especially when they’re in need. If they have the chance to help someone, they will, even if it’s out of their own pocket. And,

C) Sometimes it’s not the best idea to talk to strangers on the street.

When last we left our merry band of random sidewalk strangers, they were about to embarrass themselves in front of hundreds of other strangers for an offensive amount of money, which I did not have. However, watch how their attitude changes when I make the offer less dramatic but add the word “government” to the mix:

6) Instead of singing, what if the U.S. government asked you for your name and address so they could send the money to you, would you do it?

“No.”

“Probably not.”

“I wouldn’t believe them.”

“This is for the million, right?”

The government. Evil big brother. The man. Seems no one in this random sample trusts or believes that the government will give them money, or is afraid for what they’ll do with their name and address once they get it. Even for money. Even if it’s a task as simple as filling out a seven-question Census form.

The facts are just as simple: Mississippi lost an estimated $1,200 per year per person not counted during the past decade because an estimated 55,000 Mississippians, some of them your neighbors, didn’t take a couple minutes to fill out their Census form in 1990. That’s $12,000 per person over 10 years, times it by the almost 55,000 uncounted residents and I’m sure you get the picture.

Why they didn’t? Maybe they thought it wouldn’t matter. They could have been in a rush, or tired, or lazy, or just plain forgot. Fifty percent of America didn’t send their form back in 1990, so they were greeted with a knock on the door one day. A stranger at the door. Hopefully not some salesman. I’m too busy. A Census worker, there to get these important questions answered in person — name, sex, age, relationship, origin, race and housing tenure. Chances are that if I asked my random sample to give me, a total stranger, their name and address and that information, they would have said “no” to that too, unless I could produce a cashier’s check with their name on it. Then again, I managed to stop four random people on the street and ask them questions for five minutes. One was ready to go to Wal-Mart with me. Luckily, 90% of the people visited spent a couple minutes with those Census strangers or else Mississippi would have lost millions more.

The Census must be pretty important to spend an average of $34 per home visit to get these questions answered. The mail forms only cost $4.

Just a reminder, that’s your tax money you work so hard for. When the Census form comes, ask yourself if not sending it back is worth $30. If you’re too busy now, think how busy you’ll be when that stranger comes to knock on your door. The forms will arrive at your home in April, perfect time for you to think about taxes.

As you fill out your 1040, think about where you want your money to go. California? New York? Alabama? Or right here? Then cast your vote for yourself and your family with your Census form. And if you’re tired of all figures and dollar signs and statistics that are being churned about to explain why the Census is important, I’ll give you one last truth: It’s the right thing to do.

7) Knowing this information, will you fill out your Census form when

it comes in April?

“Yes.”

“Most likely.”

“Definitely.”

“No, but my mom will.”

Matt Martin is advertising director for Cellular One in Hattiesburg and is a regular contributor to the Pine Belt Business Journal.

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