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Wasteful Spending Watch: Census Bureau produces music video for Hawaiians

The video was paid for by a $1.8 million initiative to target Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to participate in the census.

Updated: March 8, 2020 - 4:51pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Golden Horseshoe is a weekly designation from Just the News intended to highlight egregious examples of wasteful taxpayer spending by the government. The award is named for the horseshoe-shaped toilet seats for military airplanes that cost the Pentagon a whopping $640 each back in the 1980s. 

Without further ado, our inaugural winner of the Golden Horseshoe: the taxpayer-funded U.S. Census Bureau music video for the song “This is Me.” 

As the video begins, the words "WE make no apologies” flash across the screen. A number of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander musical artists in various iconic settings across the country then begin “This is Me,” the power ballad from the Hugh Jackman vehicle "The Greatest Showman" (2017), a film depicting the origin story of P.T. Barnum, who founded the Barnum & Bailey circus.

The number was selected for this project because it was originally sung by Keala Settle, a Hawaiian-born actress. Settle does not appear in the video. 

“The video is part of an unprecedented communications campaign by the Census Bureau to reach everyone living in the United States with the message that the 2020 Census is easy, safe and important to complete,” the bureau reported recently in its online resource America Counts. The cost of the “unprecedented” campaign was a cool $500 million. 

The racial group, composed of individuals with origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa or other Pacific Islands, accounts for roughly 0.4% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

According to data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the government agency’s 2020 planned paid media spend will amount to $240 million. The bureau has broken down how they will allocate that money by targeting census participants of differing ethnic backgrounds. The budget for targeting the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community is $1.8 million. That number includes cost of production for the above music video.

“We chose locations with iconic scenery from some of the biggest cities in America,” explained John Aeto, the founder of the Kalaimoko Group, the Native Hawaiian-owned, San Francisco-based marketing agency hired to help produce the video. "We wanted to show that there are footholds of Pacific Islanders all over the nation where our people are thriving while continuing to be rooted in their cultural identities."

The video, meant as a call to action to the NHPI population to be counted this census season, fails to issue specific instruction on how to complete the census process, beyond instructing viewers to visit to learn more — assuming you’ve made it through the nearly seven-minute video and want to be counted, you now have the same amount of information as if you’d plugged “Census 2020” into google. 

Questions to ponder include why the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population of the U.S. requires a special invitation to participate in the mandatory census, and why that special invitation needs to be delivered by song. 

Spokespeople for the U.S. Census Bureau and the Kalaimoku Group were unavailable for comment.

The Census Bureau’s projected budget for fiscal 2020 is $7,165,805,000.