Enumerator No More

census materialsMy gig with the U.S. Census is over, and I’m glad to have my old job back. Granted, it’s a life of meal prep, housework and refereeing disputes among children. But it beats jockeying preschool and my Lovely Bride’s stressful job with trying to squeeze in enough hours to make sure the People Of America are counted.

Strangely enough, Census work itself really fired me up.

My job as an enumerator was to knock on doors of people who hadn’t mailed back their forms in March. Then I would fill out the form with their help. Getting each household counted gave me a euphoric sense of accomplishment, at times. Not as if I single-handedly launched a foundation that lowered Baltimore’s crime rate by providing job training and placement to those needing it most. But in the world of the at-home dad, the high-water mark of getting things done is sometimes getting laundry washed and folded – and put away in the same day. While it’s going to take decades to know how my time as an at-home dad is affecting my children, the Census work offered immediate gratification.

I had people offer me drinks – not lemonade – and found it was hard not to stop to chat with chatty neighbors. One couple offered me sangria, but I said with my hands full of forms and pencils, I’d probably drop it. And I’m sure somewhere in the thousands of pages of Census regulations, drinking on the job is prohibited. I took a raincheck.

I got a couple hostile respondents, too. One woman standing in her yard called across the street, “Hon, are we gonna fill out a Census form?”

I knew I was in trouble.

“Yeah, okay, whaddya wanna know?” she asked.

The husband wandered over right as I was asking his date of birth.

“Whaddya need to know my date of birth for?” he barked, glaring down at me.

“Uhhh… so… the government can know whether to fund more senior centers or more preschools?”

That wasn’t in any of my training manuals, and I thought that was a pretty good answer, but he was having none of it. He stomped into the house, and the wife rolled her eyes and helped me fill out the rest of the form.

Another woman refused even to open her glass storm door. She glowered at me and said something like “We got something about that last week. We’ll send it in. We’ll send it in!”

I marked my form to show she refused to respond, but my Census boss’s boss sent it back to me and said to try again. Then I had to play Narc On Your Neighbor and find a proxy respondent. Across the street, I spotted the woman who cuts my wife’s hair in a tiny basement salon. I felt like a creep, but I  pounced. “Mrs. A? Sure,” the neighbor said. “Whaddya wanna know?”

The job overall strengthened my sense of connection to my neighborhood of rowhouses. My assignment area included my very own street, with six or seven people I know personally. And in the apartment complex on one side of the neighborhood, it was interesting to find the mix of college students – most born after I was old enough to drive – and immigrants working for local universities.

I applied for the job in Feburary, thinking it might be a fun diversion that would earn a few bucks. I started training in late April, and by late May, it was done. The thing that finished me in the end was realizing that for all the logistical backflips and rushing around to squeeze in the work – sorry, visiting in-laws, I have to disappear for a couple hours – I could have been doing more freelance writing. For more pay, too.

One of the last of 60 or 70 forms I filled out was for a young mom in an apartment. Initially, she opened the door but said it was a bad time and to call over the weekend. I tried that and a couple more in-person visits. Finally, I could hear her inside and her toddler saying something like, “Mommy? Who’s knocking.” I knew she was there, and I kept knocking. Four or five times. (Sheesh – in the time she spent evading me, I could have completed her form three times over.)  Finally she whined through the door, “Leave me alone. If you don’t go away, I’m going to call the police!”

No problem, lady. I’m outta here.

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3 responses to “Enumerator No More

  1. Michele Bachmann told them the census would help Obama put them in interment camps. You might think you were helping build schools, but you’ll see things differently when your entire neighborhood is locked up and the only free man is the one who refused to give his date of birth!

  2. Oh wait. That was a joke. I mean, it was a joke on my part, but Michele Bachmann really said that Obama will use the census for interment camps, and some people do think that there’s something sinister about the census. Coincidentally, these are the same people who think Obama was born in Kenya.

    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/06/bachmann-warns-of-link-between-census-japanese-internment.php

  3. Um, the deadline for mailing back census forms was April 16, not in March. “What do you need my DOB for” is pretty mild as hostile responses go.

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