Toward a more perfect census

We sat in the large civics room of a local newspaper, 12 of us and an instructor. The group included a former newspaper editor, a scientist, a woman who had just received a doctorate, a former milkman, a retiree, a student, an artist and several IT professionals. We were all there to learn how to be enumerators for the U.S. census.

Our ages ranged from mid 30s to late 60s. Several of us had been laid off from other jobs. Soon after we began our class, we were asked to introduce ourselves. Most class members confessed that they were there to earn a little extra money. But I was happy to hear several say they were there because they believed it was their civic duty.

There was a lot to learn over the four days of training. We got many lessons in filling out the Enumerator Questionnaire, or “EQ” in Census lingo. These forms are at the heart of our work. They contain the questions to be asked at each household and the special situations that may pertain. We have to ask the questions according to a script printed on the EQ and are encouraged not to deviate from that script. We must take down the responses in pencil in case an erasure becomes necessary. Most of all we are to allow great leeway to the person interviewed – how that person perceives himself race-wise and gender-wise is paramount.

We’re to get information about ages, races, residences and genders. We were told to allow the interviewee to say what race he or she is. We can show a list of races on an information sheet, but it’s up to the person to express how he or she considers that characteristic. We were encouraged to ask respondents to provide information rather than reminding them that it is a federal law that you must respond to the questionnaire.
We learned about safety, and were encouraged to wear comfortable shoes that “may come in handy should there be a need to run” and to “scan beneath the vehicle for persons waiting to charge out at your ankles,” as our D-590 employee handbook advised.

Each of us got an official ID badge on a lanyard, which we must wear at all times that we do census business. We got our D-547 enumerator manuals and workbooks. We got sheaves of EQs and Notice of Visit forms. We got packets that contain several blue-ink pens, No. 2 pencils and a little green sharpener, erasers and paper clips. We got our black Census Bureau carrying cases in which to stash our tools.

Now the members of my “class” await a call from a crew leader, whose job it is to assemble enumerators into a group that will go out to addresses from which no census form was received by the federal government.
So if an enumerator shows up at your door in the next weeks, be patient and polite, even if you are asked whether you are male or female. The enumerator won’t take up more than 10 minutes of your time. And answering the questions on the EQ is a good reminder of who we are as Americans and where we come from.
–Don Evans

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1 Comment

  1. Geoff Green

     /  May 11, 2010

    The data you collect will be fun to look at in 73 years, when it’s made public. Of course none/few of us will be around, but our descendants will appreciate it.