My Adventures as a Census Enumerator

So last Monday, April 26th, I started the enumerator job. The first week was all training. I hear my group lucked out – our training was held in a county administrative building, the room we used was bright and comfortable and quite reminiscent of a few classrooms I had Comp Sci classes in back at VCU. There was a cafeteria in the basement with reasonable prices, and an area outside to sit and eat said lunch while admiring some very nice foothills.

The training lasted four days, and mostly consisted of learning how to fill out the mounds of forms that are a supplement to any federal job, plus sorting through the piles of confusion. We started off with one crew leader and two assistants. As of Day 2, one of the assistants was assigned somewhere else, and as of Day 5 the other was assigned somewhere else, and we are assigned a second Crew Leader. So two people in our training class get promoted to Crew Leader Assistant. And then, as of yesterday, our original Crew Leader leaves as well. Aside from the shifting of peoples, there also seems to be general disagreement on how to fill out various persnickety forms, as well as disagreement on how to accurately obtain the census data itself. The first several days, we operated under the idea that you tried to do it as to-the-letter as possible, down to the “Are you male or female?” question on the form. Then, a higher-up comes in to give us a chat, and essentially sweeps all of this away, suggesting that we guesstimate a range of things based on what see see looking inside someones door (assuming that the persona at the door is refusing answers, at least). Thus far, my strategy is to operate somewhere in the middle.

So I’ve been doing the actual door-to-door for about a week now. The job is a mixture of enjoyable, tedious, and “making me want to quit” awful. The last part, luckily, has been a minority of the time, thus far.

The Enjoyable: It’s been beautiful outside lately, and it’s kind of nice to have a job that gets me out in this spring weather. My first day working, I was in a neighborhood beside a foothill with a path, so I took the opportunity to hike up it during my lunch break. I saw several species of bird I’m not sure I’ve seen before, along with gorgeous views of the Front Range as well as an interesting perspective of the nearby Coors factory.

It’s also pleasant to talk to pleasant people. People have various reasons for not having mailed in their census forms, the more common being “I forgot” or “I didn’t get one” or “I didn’t know what to put for ______”. People are often apologetic about this, and happy that, since I’m at their door and filling out everything for them, it’s one less form they have to do. Though I have not run into the mythical person that offers cake and/or dinner, I have had several people ask if I wanted to come inside and sit down. Alas, the job forbids me from doing this, but it’s a nice gesture nonetheless.

The Tedious: First off, we meet in some really strange places. It seems the classroom we were using is not available anymore, but we still need to have team meetings every day. Despite whatever stories about Census waste that are floating around say, there certainly isn’t money to spend on meeting spaces. So we’ve met twice in Denny’s. After realizing that a.) curious customers/wait-staff are not good to have around when you have work to do involving private information, and b.) we were occupying the majority of some poor waitress’s section, we’ve moved on to meeting in the lobby of a county building, and will continue to meet in that less the ideal space until a local college lets out and we can take up residence in their library.

Also tedious is the forms. So many forms! However, I get paid for filling out said forms, and the more I do the forms the easier they get, so this isn’t really a big deal.

The big tedious bit is finding some of these people. See, my job is to count the number of people in a given residence on April 1st. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. First, I’ve got to actually catch the people at home. If they’re not at home, I leave a slip of paper on their door with my number on it. Hardly anyone calls. I stop by at all different times of the day, but as I’m only allowed to go to doors until 7:00 pm, there’s gonna be some people I’ll just never catch in person. If that’s the case, I need to find a proxy – usually a neighbor or an apartment manager. It can be a bit of a pain to find these people too, and to convince them to answer questions. Which leads to…

The “Making Me Want To Quit” Awful: The Census is something that people are legally required to do. The information is mostly used to make sure communities get the money they need for schools, roads, etc.. Aside from that, it’s used for statistical purposes. The IRS will never see the information, nor will US Immigration Services. However, some people are fearful for their privacy. The minimal information I need to get is, well, pretty minimal – the number of people staying at a residence, their gender, and age. Anything beyond that is a bonus, and if people are uncomfortable giving any piece of information, they can just tell me so and I will skip that question.

Unfortunately, some people do not seem aware of any of the information in the preceding paragraph. I had a person who called me, yelling about privacy violations and the illegality of what I was doing and how this is harassment. She insulted me, left me feeling quite harassed, and I dealt with it by crying in my car for the next 20 minutes and then drowning my misery in Burger King. I was seriously ready to quit after this. Yesterday someone slammed a door in my face – not nearly as bad as getting yelled at, but it still stung.

Maybe part of the problem is me – the last “customer service” style job I’ve held was Food Lion, and I didn’t interact with customers much beyond “How thin do you want your ham sliced?” Since then, the only customers I’ve had to deal with are web design clients – sometimes a pain in their own way but generally with problems that I have some power of fixing. With this job, though, there are people that are angry because they perceive me as the Government trying to invade their space. They want to vent their anger, and I’m a nice soft target. And while logically I can understand that it’s the badge I wear that they’re angry at, it still hurts to be treated this way.

It’s a definite minority at least – most people are at least compliant, even if not totally friendly. But, it still stresses me out and I have to fight off thoughts of “What am I doing wrong to make them so angry and why can’t I fix it?” Things like this simply reaffirm that I’m designed to work better with computers then with people.

The team I work with is really nice, though, and my various leaders are supportive. If nothing else, the job pays well, is flexible, and will be over in about 2 months or so anyway.

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