Census frustrations

I have a common frustration among Census enumerators. I am never able to whittle the addresses I have to interview in my assignment area all the way down to zero. Out of every assignment area given to me, there are always two or three people who play the “I Already Mailed It In” card.

A common misconception out there is that mailing in the Census form—no matter how late—totally erases the Census Bureau’s right to send enumerators to one’s door. Just tell the enumerator you mailed it in, and the interview must stop right then and there, so they think.

I kinda wish that were true, since I constantly hold it in the back of my mind that in a country that professes to be free, the rights of the individual is king. While we never ask for more than how many people are living under a roof, their names, ages, birth dates, races, genders, and whether they are of Hispanic descent, even that is looked upon by some as uncalled for snooping. One should have the right to boot anyone out of his turf one pleases if he gets too inquisitive.

Truth is, we have nothing to work with out in the field but books full of addresses and large manila envelopes full of questionnaires, and those never update with late-breaking news of whose forms just came in. We have no way of verifying that a respondent mailed in a Census form.

Here’s another source of frustration. In training, we were shown in our manuals how if a respondent doesn’t know certain details about a person living under his or a neighbor’s roof, say, his date of birth, we could write little notes about it in the margin at the bottom of the questionnaire. As soon as training ended and we began gathering and submitting questionnaires, our bosses suddenly became perfectionists, rejecting any and all questionnaires with even one blank in them. Go back and find this stuff out, they say.

Easier said than done. After three visits where absolutely nobody comes to the door, I then have to start looking for proxies, neighbors, realtors, landlords, or some such that can tell us who had been living there on April 1. No neighbor can tell us down to the last hair-splitting detail everything the Census wants to know about a resident. I have a next-door neighbor named Oliver Davis. He’s a black former African who lives with his sister. I would guess his age to be in the thirties, but I don’t know his exact birthdate or his sister’s name. If a Census taker came to my door wanting to know about Oliver, I would be little help to him.

Another question I have is how to deal with flat refusals to cooperate. The Census is mandatory, and you have to answer their questions in one form or another sooner or later. Trouble is, I’m not allowed to tell my respondents about this. It makes otherwise friendly enumerators look like Gestapo officers (assuming they don’t already look that way). So, I go to an address and I am told to go to hell. Who is going to be in my corner then?

I really don’t think they told us enough about these things in training.


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