My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Census, employment rate wind down

I’m seeing several reports of the unemployment rate being affected by the end of census jobs. Georgia’s The Augusta Chronicle, Tampa’s ABC Action News, and San Diego’s North County Times all have similar stories. It’s all part of the process, baby. Here’s an excellent piece by Darcy Courteau over at The Atlantic that reflects on the end of these census jobs:

The Divine Impermanence of Being a Census Worker

Day two of our Census Bureau training, fingerprinted and cleared, it was time to briefly introduce ourselves and tell the group why we were here. I was first. I reached for the only shred of experience I’d had with the Census Bureau. Ten years ago I was living in a shack on my grandparents’ Ozark property — a place so overgrown I usually missed the turnoff — when a man from the Census showed up. I held up my hands, shaking them, to show how he’d trembled in terror when he stepped from his car. The day before, down another remote road, an anti-government militia with AK-47s had ambushed him. “So,” I finished, “since then I’ve had a burning passion for the Census adventure.”

Our instructor turned to the guy next to me, who stood, said “paycheck,” and sat back down. “I think it’s safe to say that’s why we’re all here,” the instructor muttered. Everyone agreed, aside from a couple of defiant middle-aged women who declared that they were here to get to know the community.

We were re-interviewers, our mission to spot-check data the first waves of Census enumerators had scared up. Training wasn’t much more interactive than listening to verbatim readings from two manuals that our instructor shook at us, a demoralized Moses with perfect bound books full of commandments, though there was only one that really mattered: no overtime, never, DO NOT CLAIM OVERTIME. Our black and white shoulder bags we packed as a group. A team leader asked us to note our reclose-able plastic baggies of pencils, and, leaving nothing to chance, instructed us not to empty the contents into our shoulder bags, as loose pencils would roll around the bottom of a bag.

I’ve been in the field since, long enough to absorb a few more useful bits of knowledge. Newly arrived in Washington, I’ve learned that those women in training were on to something. It might seem obvious, but a great way to get the lay of the land city is to drive its back streets, stopping at homes of strangers to ask if they consider themselves to be male or female, what races they’d like to claim, if they’ve lived somewhere else during the year including jail, prison, or a nursing home, and–when you’re wrapping things up–whether there are any babies in the house they’ve forgotten to mention.

My small crew meets each morning at 8:15 at a McDonald’s where we turn in completed cases — those for which we’ve finally buttonholed a householder — to the crew leader, a trained actor who fields our queries with Old Hollywood gravitas; only when he’s found another ding in his Civic does he break character, falling into unactorly grousing. We swap stories over a syrup-gummed four-top: no militias yet, but we have had our share of doozies. The man who left me a perfectly printed note atop the Notice of Visit I had slipped under his door — hours before being arrested and jailed, I learned from neighbors — was more gracious than another woman who screamed that her boyfriend was going to take care of me, a threat issued straight from the nose as her eyes stared in opposite directions like a hammerhead shark’s. One of my colleague’s occupants told her to go away and then waited her out behind his door. But she’s a 61-year-old bewigged karate brown belt who moonlights as a security guard, and has a few tricks of her own. She had worn jeans on her first visit to his house, but surveying the upscale neighborhood, decided to adjust her look for the next. Gussied up in a church dress and fresh wig, she returned. The man opened the door and greeted her like a friend, tut-tutting about the grubby girl who’d come the night before. He wouldn’t let that one in.

We might seem like an odd bunch, with our dented fleet of emissions-test-failing cars, but for now, we’re the demographers who are mapping the country’s human geography. Not for long, though. Another great lesson of the summer is on the Divine Impermanence of being a Census worker. In May there were nearly 600,000 of us earning paychecks across the United States — a number large enough to ratchet down the unemployment rate by 0.2 percent. But even now our numbers are eroding: in weeks only a few thousand enumerators will be left to follow up on fewer than 20 million residences of the original 130,000,000. Come September, the last door will have been knocked upon. The Census website provides a page for former employees back in the job market that lists our various job titles along with bulleted duties and the stern directive to “copy and paste only the information describing tasks you actually performed into your resume.”

The past weeks have also revealed the Impermanence of most Washingtonians, who seem never to be home and indeed to have a Buddha-like detachment from sleep, food preparation, and other people. For upwardly mobile whites living on Capitol Hill, the mark of achievement appears to be living alone, regardless of how isolated and ill-lit the apartment. The farther I go from downtown, however, the more intricate become the household counts. At the city’s edge one morning, a very young woman answered her door in cartoon-printed pajamas and a headscarf. Too shy and sleepy to refuse, she sat on the porch and answered my questions. Her boyfriend’s grandmother owned the house and lived there with several relatives, including the boyfriend. Realizing that the girl was not only the youngest in the household but the only one not related by blood, I asked if this was where she lived and slept most of the time, Census-speak for permanent address. She glanced at the front door. “I ain’t going nowhere.” The way she said it, I swear she was staking a claim.

Tags: employment

12 Responses to “Census, employment rate wind down”

  1. Out of Binders Says:

    We have no more bindsrs. CL has told us to standby and we may receive more work next week.

  2. Dave Says:

    We’re in the same situation here. There might be a few more binders on Monday which will probably go to the CLs friend who’s already gotten more work than the rest of us. So it goes.

  3. Tristate Says:

    <> LOL! I spent the money to get the emissions repairs and sticker *before* starting the job, because I feared being out in the community (more than normal,) and afraid someone would call the police on me, and give them 1 legitimate reason to give me a ticket
    So, basically, my first paycheck was already spent to pay for the repairs!

  4. Enumeratrix Says:

    Thanks for running the Atlantic article–good piece of writing.

  5. anonymous Says:

    A lot of enumerators for NRFU VDC have had major car problems and health issues – both due to excessive heat and high humidity.

  6. nerfoo Says:

    Nice :-) I do love these stories from the real people out there working this job because they needed the paycheck, but also because it’s interesting, challenging and somewhat of a civic duty

  7. Enumerate this Says:

    What Enumeratrix said. That Atlantic piece was good stuff. I regret not seeing more of that during the census.

  8. FOS me Says:

    If you liked this article check out Loose Femme’s blog (just Google)- she was an enumerator during NRFU in the Oakland area – funny writing – current blogs do not relate to Census, back up a few pages to find the 20+ blogs she did on enumerating. I like her spirit and persistence, and honesty in doing her work. I wish I had more enumerators like her on my teams.

  9. Still Working Says:

    Okay, let’s back up here. I was a crew leader during NRFU. We had 20 people hired for our crew. Most of them were still putting in a few hours by the second week of May, but most never worked more than 100-150 hours for the Census. Almost all of my enumerators had other part-time jobs. We started dropping people by the second week of May because either the people weren’t very good or they couldn’t get the work done… not enough time. I don’t believe that enumerators were ever promised full-time work.

    About the RI people redoing work that the original enumerators “screwed up”: I wondered how in the world the Census was going to figure out which of the two questionnaires was “screwed up”. Our enumerators were out in the field and becoming more and more experienced for several weeks before the RI people were out in the field… why would anyone assume that the RI people were right and the original enumerator was wrong?

  10. mj Says:

    re: Still Working

    Here is the Census HR/interviewer on the first phone call to me about being hired to work for the US Census in the NRFU operation early April:

    CHR = Census HR person
    Me = well, you know that


    We only have one spot left and it is between you and another person that has not returned the call yet so we want to offer it to you, and you have to decide now or you will lose the spot.

    The hours will be Mon to Fri 3 to 9 pm and Sat/Sun 9am to 9pm.

    ME: Wow. that sounds great. I will get a lot of hours in there (YEAH RIGHT!)


    Yes, there is a lot of work to be done and will last into July, even possibly to the end of August.


    Training begins soon and will be M-F 9 to 5. Will you be able to attend the full days/sessions?

    ME: Yes. (In reality training was 4 days and was about 24-28 hours).

    Again, if I was out of college and never in the workforce it would be great as I could milk out many many hours.

    But me being a responsible taxpayer I was never able to get more than 20 hours a week.

    Hopefully I can try and get a F/T Fed Job since I paid my (crappy) dues doing this (even crappier) NRFU Enumerator.

  11. Shirley Says:

    Thanks for the great article regarding being a census worker-Loose Femmes’ blog was also good. As I worked, I felt like a detective at times!
    Regarding length of assignments, as I read these comments, it seems that the workload varied greatly from area to area. We started NRFU the first week of May and most of our crew worked through the middle of June. I have another job, but I worked 20-35 hours a week. I was lucky? enough to get rehired for VDC, which should last about a month. I’m not working as much for this one, as I have to drive 35 miles just to get to the area I am working in. Unlike NRFU, I can’t just run out to work for an hour or two after work.
    I don’t know why people are complaining so much about the job-it was pretty much as described during training. We all knew it would be temporary!!

  12. Shirley Says:

    Sorry about my last comment(I don’t know why people are complaining) That was rude. I was lucky to have an area that had lots of work that lasted 6 weeks, and to get hired for VDC. I hope all who need jobs are able to find them soon.