My Census Experience


On August 4th, I drove to Ashland City to take the oath for a federal job as a Census taker (enumerator). Earlier in the year, I had applied for the gig online, passed the background check and then the Pandemic stopped everything. Finally in August the call came to resume the process of training before hitting the road to survey and count. Each case represented a household that did not respond either by mail or online.

I joked to Patty as I was online training that I now understood how federal workers have a job for life! All the protections and recourses for seemingly any reason…disability, whistleblower, discrimination, etc. Not that way in the private sector. It was a plethora of issues and testing to be able to move on so I could actually learn the Census history and the current responsibilities with proper applications to enumerating…technical processes, scenarios in the field to overcome, legal restrictions, etc.

After a few conference calls, online testing and much paperwork, I was given my first day of cases. I considered myself lucky. I was only assigned those in my county of residence. That was a comfort zone for me. This county is small and somewhat rural. Even though it is near the major city of Nashville. How difficult would this 6 to 8 week task be? As it turned out, quite the eye-opener.

I would knock on a neighbor’s door. They would answer with all sorts of excuses for NOT doing the 6 minute survey. Could I come back naother time? When I would return, no one would come to the door. I knew they were home. I could hear and in many cases see them. I would leave the official ‘Notice of Visit’ form and hoped they would go online or call the hotline to complete the questionaire.

More than one person whom I surveyed at the door or front porch asked me why I wasn’t insisting on confirming their legal citizenship? I told them I wasn’t allowed to inquire, not part of the process. They were a little miffed.

Also, more than once doors were shut in front of me after identifying myself as a Census worker (badge clearly visible). They refused to participate and stated “the government doesn’t need to know anything else about me or my family”. YIKES! Frustrating

There were vacant houses. A shutdown trailer park. Many ‘no tresspassing’ barriers. One guy was sitting on his front porch with a shotgun as I stepped out of my car in his driveway. I did a very quick turnaround! I hiked up and down many steep driveways and walkways to no avail. After a few days I concluded that my almost 70 year old body wasn’t cooperating with me on this part time assignment.

I originally thought it would be interesting. After all, I’m a people person, an extrovert. However, it turned out being very tedious. No joy in the process. I determined most of these holdout households just didn’t give a shit about an overall accurate count. Even at the expense of a true representation in local or national government. Or distribution of funds for schools, hospitals, roads,etc. I was trained to overcome objections but hell, most just didn’t care.

Skeptical of government? Privacy over dialogue? Pandemic fears? Political polarization? I called my supervisor and resigned. Turned in my federal issued smartphone and badge after 14 days.

Now back to retirement.