Enumerators at Work

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

During the past few weeks I’ve accompanied enumerators as they did their field work. In one episode we were attacked by a Midwestern thunderstorm and didn’t actually get to work, while tree limbs were falling around us and debris was flying through the air. The other experiences were disproportionately visits to multi-unit structures. Some were easy; some were difficult.

The basics of the job are very similar to those of other face-to-face survey interviewing – attempting to gain access to the units, knocking on doors, explaining your affiliation and reason for the visit, seeking the residents’ permission to ask the questions, and administering the interview.

What makes the 2010 Census field operation different, however, is that the awareness of the 2010 Census is higher than what is typical for sample surveys. Further, many households remember receiving the paper questionnaire (indeed, many note that they had mailed back the form).

Going out with the enumerators reminded me of the anxieties of the job. Approaching each house is a new experience. It isn’t at all clear what the next few minutes will bring. Will someone be at home? Will they try to avoid answering the knock on the door? If they answer, will they be friendly, hostile, or frightened? Are there dogs? Do they speak languages I can speak?

After knocking on hundreds of doors, the anxieties tend to decrease, but a heightened sense of awareness is ever-present at the moment the door opens. The task is a simple and good one – merely making sure everyone is counted in the country’s census. But the lives of many residents are far removed from the logic that drives our enumerators to work so hard for a complete count. Day to day struggles may make our request seem quite strange and irrelevant to their lives. Good enumerators try to link the life concerns of the residents to the benefits of the census, but often they have only seconds to do so before the door closes.

Census enumeration is tough work, much more difficult than my job. Those hundreds of thousands of census workers who have provided the country this service deserve our thanks.

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9 Responses to Enumerators at Work

  1. Mark Lodes says:

    Thanks for recognizing the people who are out there doing the difficult work in tough times like these.

  2. June C says:

    yes thank you. I was very good at calming fears, and for the most part could get the people who are angry to at least be rational. And sometimes if you have to go back to the same home and had a situation before, there is anxiety of going back to that house, knowing that you are faced with the same thing again. Thanks for your support.

  3. Louis says:

    Did you know that you have Managers in your LCO’s who will send you an email and get angry with an employee for responding directly to them with comments or additional information?
    Yes, you do! Thanks for this comment page. WE love the U.S. Department of Census!

  4. Glenn Hughes says:

    While few of the people at The Census Headquarters started off as Field Reps, or as an Enumerator like I did in college, the work of the Enumerator is highly respected at The Census Bureau.
    It’s terrific that the Director is out there doing observations! It’s great to hear what was on his mind while doing this sometimes dangerous or occasionally frustrating job. I can second the fact that sometimes just gaining access to the building is one of the tougher parts of the job.
    As one former Director put it everything we do is derived from the quality of the data we collect. I know in the Field Division the Enumerators are held in the highest of respect, not just for their commitment and tireless sense of duty, but also for that little bit of ingenuity or the right amount of smile that people from the local community instinctively know best how to deliver honestly and with that little bit of humanity secure the reluctant interview.
    Personally my greatest thanks go out this Census to the Enumerators. If you are in school or have an unfinished degree like I did in 2000 – if you are passionate about the fields The Census Bureau works in – it’s not just all mathematicians and statisticians up here – please consider The Census Bureau in any future career search. Perhaps instead like most of the ladies in my family did during my youth we’ll only be able to coax you back once a decade. Regardless I can personally testify that the work you do as Enumerators is highly respected from the top on down.
    Thank you for your service!

  5. Kaloni says:

    As a crew leader I’ve heard some educational and sometimes entertaining stories from my enumerators. I’ve heard everything from peacocks, to llamas, to ditches, and of course, some irritated people. Much love to the eighteen folks I had out there “pounding the ground.” It’s so important to say thank you. It’s certainly a tough job.

  6. MR says:

    Loved being an enumerator. At one house I was told the occupant doesn’t talk to government officials, but he came home while I was there and completed the EQ. I found the job challenging and rewarding.

  7. Yvonne March says:

    This is my swan song with the Census – I will be too old to do the work in 2020 (if, in fact I am still alive). I have had some bad moments, but the “feel good” times far outweigh those unsavory times. Thank you for the memories

  8. CB says:

    I was a Crew Leader for NRFU with an area consisting entirely of high-security high-rise buildings. The position was challenging and rewarding for me; but frustrating and confusing for my Enumerators because of the stream of changes in direction from the LCO on how they were to do their job. Many of the changes went back and forth and some directly changed clear information from their training. Further, at my level the changes came ex cathedra, so I was unable to help my Enumerators understand the rationale for the changes.
    What worried me most about these changes was a concern for “purity” of data – or “usefulness” of the data.
    When I imagined the data collection design, it seemed it was important that all Enumerators were operating in exactly the same way – thus the emphasis on verbatim training when preparing the Enumerators for their task. With the changes in direction coming fast and thick it seemed impossible that all Enumerators nationwide were applying, and had applied, the same methods and constraints when completing each NRFU Enumerator Questionnaire.
    I hope my concerns are unfounded.

  9. Pilose says:

    This is a great post. If only it were true at all LCO’s.
    As a NRFU and VDC enumerator the “praise” we often got was that we “weren’t working hard” enough to meet our daily quotas.
    Those of us with boots on the ground quickly learned how the conflicting (and ever-changing) rules often made high production impossible – if quality was to be maintained.
    Simple example: The requirement to revisit an obviously deserted or uninhabitable property 3 times on different days and different times of day before turning to a knowledgeable proxy, say, the next-door neighbor, who could tell you that only raccoons had been living there since last Fall. If you tried turning in that info after the initial visit you got a Hard Fail on the EQ.
    Same thing if you encountered an empty home with a foreclosure notice on the door. The bank contact on the notice could tell you instantly when the place was vacated but that information was Not Acceptable until you had been there 3 times.
    Also it was most surprising how many apparently well-educated, prosperous residents had no idea what the Census was for or why we were at their door. The many TV commercials, I think, were just too clever and slick and didn’t explain the project at a grass-roots level to people who didn’t know much about it to begin with. Next time maybe test the commercials on ordinary but unawares people and not (incestuously) on yourselves.
    I hope that the Director (or his proxies) will not end this project without getting real-life feedback from actual enumerators (NOT the FOS or other LCO managers) for tips and techniques and gotchas that might help in 2020.

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