Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers. His column appears in Indiana newspapers.
“Frivolous,” was all she said, putting down my column for this week and opening the box of donuts.
I seethed. Once more, Myrtle, my muse, was belittling my efforts. I expect a muse to be supportive, a positive creative force, not the source of negativity.
“What’s wrong?” I asked with a combination of trepidation and resentment.
“Does it really matter where prisoners and college students are counted in the Census of 2020?” she responded.
“Of course it does,” I insisted. “All sorts of federal and state monies are allocated based on population. If your town sends your children to college or to prison elsewhere, you’re not going to have the same pull in Congress or the State Legislature as if your kids stayed home.
“But,” I continued, “The Census cannot be run on an ‘alternative’ scenario. The idea of classifying certain groups by their prior residence presumes they will return to those places when their temporary ‘dislocation’ ends. Reality must be recognized.”
“By whom?” she said, while deciding if her next donut would be the cake or yeast style.
“By local officials, business owners, just about everyone. “In Monroe, Vigo, Henry, Miami, LaPorte, and Sullivan Counties (to name but a few) the college and/or prison populations are important. Folks in Bloomington are always asking, ‘Well, do local population numbers include the students?’
“And I tell them, “Students and prisoners are people who need to be represented, even if they cannot or do not vote. They need to be fed, provided with medical services, and kept from getting into trouble. It’s wrong to exclude them from the local population.”
“Bosh,” Myrtle scorned. “Students and prisoners don’t have long term ties to the communities that host them. Sure, some students hang on for decades like human moss and some prisoners are condemned for life, but, fundamentally, they are from somewhere else and will go somewhere else. They are like passengers in the Atlanta airport.”
“Certainly,” I was certain. “Some people agitate for students and prisoners to be counted by their previous place of residency. The home folks feel cheated out of representation, money, or both, when their off-spring are enrolled or incarcerated elsewhere.”
“You bet, big britches,” Myrtle mumbled while attacking a cruller. “Is reality relevant any longer?”
Ignoring the provocation, I said, “Although individuals may move from place to place, the number of persons at any given place with a ‘magnet’ institution (a college or prison) is unlikely to change dramatically from year to year.
“Purdue at West Lafayette and the Indiana State Penitentiary at Michigan City may have revolving doors, but the head count remains stable. The needs and opportunities students and prisoners create are real. We shouldn’t try to fashion fictions about prior locations.”
Myrtle was getting peevish as the donut box emptied. “OK,” she said. And that was that.