In Defense of Hipsters

In order to save Elizabeth Nolan Brown the trouble, let me note yet another instance of normally sane journalists suspending critical thinking and their sense of fairness whenever a story presents an opportunity to mock hipsters.

The headline here is New York’s Hipsters Too Cool for the Census — this atop a subhead informing us:

Many New York City residents aren’t returning their census forms. The return rate is only around 50 percent, but the lowest rate of return (around 30 percent) is the hipster enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. These young, recent graduates with ironic mustaches and plaid shirts are apparently too busy tweeting to fill out a simple census form.

So already we’re told that the hipsters are “too cool” to fill out census forms, and that they’re “too busy Tweeting” to fill them out, despite the complete lack of evidence for either of those propositions, and the fact that the very article bearing that title and subhead contains multiple other explanations for the low census return rates.

1) The transience of Williamsburg residents.

SMITH: Two 20-somethings, Nate and Mike, are working behind the counter. They share an apartment and should be sharing a census form, but…

MIKE: Did we get the forms?


MIKE: We did. I didn’t see any yet.

Mr. STARK: We still get mail from the past 30 people that have lived there. So it’s like who knows if people are getting these.

2) Political reasons.

Just outside the record store, I meet Jamie Lilly. She knows the ads. She got the form but she thinks that returning it is just supporting a government that she doesn’t believe in.

Ms. JAMIE LILLY: You know, on a personal note, maybe some people, they figure what’s the point to be counted if you don’t count for much anyway? If we don’t count, why be counted?

3) A large population of census ambivalent Hasidic Jews.

…you can’t blame it all on the cool kids. This is the Hasidic part of Williamsburg, where the Satmar Orthodox Jews live. Only one quarter of households here so far have participated. Not only are they reluctant to fill out the census, they don’t even want to talk about it.

That’s if we merely look inside the NPR story for information that discredits its own headline and subhead. Doing additional research by looking up demographic data from the relevant community board, we see that the area is roughly 38 percent Hispanic, that 20 to 24 year olds make up just 9 percent of the population, and that more than 50,000 people lack English proficiency.

So enjoyable as I’m sure it is to make the most tired hipster jokes ever in headlines and subheads, I’m confident in saying that neither recent college graduates “being too cool” nor their “being too busy Twittering” explain the low census form return rate in Billyburg.


3 Responses to “In Defense of Hipsters”

  1. Elizabeth Nolan Brown Says:

    Oh my goodness. Thank you; I don’t think I could have handled that one.

  2. andreaitis Says:

    That NPR story reads like a movie pitch for Harold and Kumar Fill Out the Census Form.

  3. ericajanes Says:

    You know what does explain it? The fact that while the “hipster” return rates are on par with the rest of the city the rates in the Hassidic community are incredibly low. Which the story kind of mentioned, but not really…

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