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Washington - Census Get ready for Door-to-door Count

Published on: May 1, 2010 10:46 PM
By: AP
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In this April 29, 2010 photo, census employees, including Joseph Mintz, seated, and Lesley Rubinger, far right, assemble after a training course in New York. Census workers will spread out across the country, knocking on doors to count the millions of people who haven't filled out and mailed in their census forms.  (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)In this April 29, 2010 photo, census employees, including Joseph Mintz, seated, and Lesley Rubinger, far right, assemble after a training course in New York. Census workers will spread out across the country, knocking on doors to count the millions of people who haven't filled out and mailed in their census forms.  (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Washington - It sounds simple enough. Knock on some doors, ask some questions, get some answers.

But for the more than 600,000 people going door-to-door to reach those who haven’t mailed in their census forms, it’s not.

As census enumerators set out check 48 million addresses on Saturday, they were likely to encounter a range of responses. People who never seem to be home. People who don’t speak English. People who say they’re too busy. People who swear they mailed in their responses. People who want to know what business is it of the government how many people live in their house, anyway. People who question what will happen to the information that gets collected.

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Census workers around the country have spent most the last week getting trained in all the things they need to know to get the job done, from how to deal with people who are reluctant to answer to what to do at homes with guard dogs.

They’ve been taught the big things: All the information is kept confidential. (That means they can’t talk about anything they’ve seen with anyone, either.) That it’s important to answer because census information is needed for many things, such as Congressional representation and federal funding for programs. If someone says they’re too busy at that moment, ask for a specific time to come back.

They’ve also been taught the smaller things: Wear comfortable shoes. Make sure your pencils are nice and sharp to fill out the forms (and yes, they have to be No. 2 pencils). If there’s a dog, ask if the householder would mind moving the animal away. Don’t ask to enter someone’s home. Smile and be confident.

“We did a lot of practice role-playing all week,” said Lesley Rubinger, 61, a Manhattanite who will be leading a crew of census workers in her first door-to-door count. “What to do if somebody gets hostile, or they refuse to answer your questions.”

In this April 29, 2010 photo, Kim Monjoy, left, and Lesley Collins, right, stand with other participants after attending a training course for new census employees in New York. Census workers will spread out across the country, knocking on doors to count the millions of people who haven't filled out and mailed in their census forms.  (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)In this April 29, 2010 photo, Kim Monjoy, left, and Lesley Collins, right, stand with other participants after attending a training course for new census employees in New York. Census workers will spread out across the country, knocking on doors to count the millions of people who haven't filled out and mailed in their census forms.  (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The Census Bureau tries to encourage as many people as possible to mail in their responses — this year’s response rate was 72 percent, the same as in 2000. That’s because door-to-door canvassing is the most expensive part of the count, as well as the most vulnerable to mistakes.

The more than 600,000 workers who will canvass residents around the country earn between $10 and $25 an hour, working until mid-July.

Enumerators have very specific rules about how they’re supposed to work, to ensure consistency, said Tim Olson, assistant division chief in the Census Bureau’s Field Division.

That means the same rules for everyone, from the number of contact attempts per address (up to six) to how to properly canvass a block (start at one place, then move clockwise.)

Olson said for the most part, census workers don’t meet with extremely negative responses to their visits.

“What our enumerators will encounter, by and large, are households that simply have forgotten or misplaced their forms or just were too busy,” he said.

“People want to part be of the census,” he said.

Of course, there are some differences in what gets emphasized in training sessions around the country. At a New York City training, it didn’t make sense to discuss the section on evaluating mobile homes and trailer parks in depth, Rubinger said.

“The manual is very much written for the whole country,” she said. “So they talk about mobile homes and RVs and knocking on doors. Our big problem is doormen and brownstones, so it’s a whole other little piece.

“That’s what we’ve been emphasizing all week, what to do when someone says ‘No, you can’t come in this building.’”

The door-to-door count has its challenges — in some immigrant communities, limited English proficiency could hamper responses and in some rural communities, people are spread out and hard to reach.

The stakes are high. The results of the decennial census are used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives. States such as New York, California, Texas, Arizona and Florida were average or below average in mail-in participation rates, according to census tallies released this past week, putting them in danger of losing congressional seats.

Observers said the Census Bureau had made strides in getting ready for this year’s count, and that includes efforts for the door-to-door canvassing.

The agency has reached out to community groups, to help spread the message that people should fill out their questionnaires and shouldn’t be wary of census workers knocking on their doors, as well as to help recruit people who speak other languages for those householders who don’t speak English.

Some immigrant advocates still expressed their concerns about whether the census would be able to effectively deal with language barriers.

Seema Agnani, executive director of Chhaya Community Development Corporation, said her group had gone out to some Queens neighborhoods to talk to people about the census and had dealt firsthand with the language challenges some enumerators will face.

Even though her members speak a number of languages, it still wasn’t enough to talk to all the people they met.

“I can’t imagine that the census enumerators will have more languages available than we do,” she said.

But still, she praised the agency for the steps it has taken since last decade.

“It’s so much better than it was 10 years ago,” she said.


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Read Comments (11)  —  Post Yours »

1

 May 02, 2010 at 12:17 AM Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

It's the most labor-intensive way of counting people and in some ways the least accurate. Statistically valid sampling was suggested a few years ago. Unfortunately, it was rejected out of ignorance of statistical methods and for political reasons. I hope it will be reconsidered before the 2020 census.

2

 May 02, 2010 at 12:44 AM Anonymous Says:

The less congeressional delegates, the less trouble they can cause. These sick politicians are coming up with stupider and stupider laws. Who needs them

3

 May 02, 2010 at 02:19 AM Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

The less congeressional delegates, the less trouble they can cause. These sick politicians are coming up with stupider and stupider laws. Who needs them

Ah, so you want taxation without representation and laws passed by people who are not responsible to the voters.

How is this supposed to be a good thing for anyone except the plutocratic elite?

4

 May 02, 2010 at 02:45 AM Anonymous Says:

1. Only one question is constitutional here- how many people live in this house. Other than that, you are not required to answer any questions.
2. With all the money that has been spent this year (over 2000), how come the response rate is the exact same? Is this where stimulus money is going to? I see the money is well spent and is getting great results!

5

 May 02, 2010 at 04:03 AM Anonymous Says:

I never got a form anybody know if they'll knock on my door?

6

 May 02, 2010 at 07:36 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #4  
Anonymous Says:

1. Only one question is constitutional here- how many people live in this house. Other than that, you are not required to answer any questions.
2. With all the money that has been spent this year (over 2000), how come the response rate is the exact same? Is this where stimulus money is going to? I see the money is well spent and is getting great results!

Absolutely! I too just wrote in the 3 of people in my home & mailed it off. I didn't even put in my name ...they have that info from the bar code!

If they show up at my door I won't answer a thing. None of their business, certainly not some kid or underachiever whose only hope of a job is this.

And all this costs how many billions???

7

 May 02, 2010 at 09:54 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #3  
Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

Ah, so you want taxation without representation and laws passed by people who are not responsible to the voters.

How is this supposed to be a good thing for anyone except the plutocratic elite?

Ah, so you are being represented by these politicians. I am still to find something of late that has been done for the benefit of the citizens. Please educate me

8

 May 02, 2010 at 04:41 PM PMO Says:

Reply to #7  
Anonymous Says:

Ah, so you are being represented by these politicians. I am still to find something of late that has been done for the benefit of the citizens. Please educate me

The people get the government they deserve. If you choose not to participate in your Constitutional duties, that is your choice, but you certainly have no right to complain afterward.

I'm sick of having to listen to stupid people who don't vote, don't get counted in the census, don't report their income, lie to get welfare and everything else crooked they can think of. This is AMERICA. Freedom and Liberty are not FREE and do not come without EFFORT from EVERYONE.

If you don't like your elected representative, go to work for someone you DO support and put EFFORT into getting them elected. Otherwise, shut up.

9

 May 02, 2010 at 05:35 PM Anonymous Says:

Don't answer the census, and you will be fined. When you find out how much the fine is you'll be calling the enumerator to come back ASAP!!!!!!

10

 May 02, 2010 at 09:39 PM boro park Says:

lets help those heimish people that will go from door to door in BP. Give them an easy job

11

 May 03, 2010 at 11:27 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

Absolutely! I too just wrote in the 3 of people in my home & mailed it off. I didn't even put in my name ...they have that info from the bar code!

If they show up at my door I won't answer a thing. None of their business, certainly not some kid or underachiever whose only hope of a job is this.

And all this costs how many billions???

what is going on in your life that makes you so angry?

12

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