2010 Census–Pt 5

As the recruiting efforts producing a list of potential workers came to an end, I was called on to become a Field Operations Supervisor (FOS). This was in preparation for the major phase of the 2010 Census.

I was pleased to have been recommended for the position, and gladly accepted the offer. My hotel and meals were paid for during the training, and it was a fun time getting to know the others who would be in the same position in other districts.

Our supervisor, Emily, did the training. In our group was her former supervisor, Tom, who had been the FOS during the Address Update. Emily had been one of the Crew Leaders. Now, their roles were reversed, but both of them were professional and adapted to their new roles in good humor.

We had one more trainee than was required, so I volunteered to become the runner for all of the FOS crew. I would still have to complete the training, however.

Turns out it was a good decision.

One of the trainees had never worked any part of the census before. Therefore it became quite overwhelming for him to understand much of what was going on. There is a lot of jargon and acronyms that are tossed about, with which those who have been in for a while become familiar. He was lost.

One afternoon, it was obvious that he was close to tears. I told Emily what I saw, and she talked with him during the next break. To no avail.

The next morning, he came in and returned all his equipment. Now we were down to “just enough” people being trained. However, there was talk of redesigning the districts, so I could continue as the courier.

On the last day of training, the official day of the Census–April 1–the regional manager came in to talk to us.

He then began to pass out district assignments.

He called my name for District 8.

I went into my “I can’t do this” mode. I stuttered and stammered, and said, “I don’t know.”

Steve is a no-nonsense type of manager.

He said, “Are you sure? I’ve got to know now.”

One of the other trainees said, “Dale, you said yesterday that you had no problems with this.”

I said, “But that was yesterday. This is Today…April Fool’s Day.”

Everybody but Steve laughed.

I heard about how good that joke was for weeks afterward.

Anytime we would meet, Steve always treated me with respect. Don’t know if the joke had anything to do with it or not. I do know that not everyone was treated the same.

We were given a few days to get our bearings, become familiar with our materials, and then we had to train our Crew Leaders (CLs).

We had no say in who was assigned to us as Crew Leaders, and I am not exactly sure what the criteria was for their selection.

Each FOS had approximately eight CLs under their charge. Each of us had at least one CL who more than tried our patience.

Turns out that Emily had at least one FOS who more than tried her patience.

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2010 Census–Pt 4

During the Address Update, we used the hand-held computers (HHC) I mentioned before. It was a handy little gadget, complete with a GPS locator that would show me exactly where I was at any given time. It was not a complete GPS like we use in our cars, in that it could not give me directions.

We used the locator to place a spot on our maps to indicate the exact location of a house. I would stand 10 feet from the front door, wait for the spotter to settle down, then tap the indicator with the stylus. The computer would place a black dot on the map in that spot in relation to the road. Worked really neat.

During the actual census, these map spots had been transferred to paper maps that the census taker would use to help locate a house.

For those of you who have never been out into the farming community of your area, you may not be able to understand why we would need something like this. But, in the hills, with their twisted turning roads that become gravel to clay back to pavement without warning, these maps can be a great benefit.

In this type of area, the postal service does not go to every single house. Often, there is a row of mailboxes at the bottom of a hill on the corner of the intersection. These mailboxes can be more than a mile from the household to which they belong.

During the census, some of my people had a map with the housing spots all clumped together at the intersection!

Why?

Because some enterprising, shiftless employee who recognized an easy dollar, sat at the bottom of the hill using the HHC to map-spot the mailboxes!!

This made it extremely difficult for the census taker, because many of these houses did not have house numbers at their physical location.

Time wasted. Money wasted. Resources wasted.

But, who cares? I got mine!!

As to the houses without numbers, which has nothing to do with the census–don’t people realize the jeopardy they are putting themselves in?

Most folks who move out into the country backwoods are trying to get away from many things including government intrusion. So, the census workers were not very welcome at some of these locations.

But house numbers on the street are not put there so that Big Brother can spy on you. He does that with or without your house number. Numbering your location–in town or out-of-town–could save your dwelling in the event of fire or your life in some other disaster.

But people think they can hide with these silly little subterfuges.

I knocked on one door of a lovely two-story home out in one of these areas. No one answered the door, and I heard nor saw any signs of life. It was about 9:30 in the morning.

I backed up from the door, held my HHC, and was about to pinpoint the spot when the window upstairs flew open.

“What are you doing?!?” the lady demanded. She had a phone and was in conversation with someone on the other end.

I calmly and politely identified myself, and told her what I was doing with the census and with the HHC.

She wanted to know how the HHC worked, and I told her.

She said, “I don’t want the government to know where I am.”

After I told her I wasn’t after her name or any other information, I told her that the satellites overhead could see me standing in her yard talking with her.

She screamed, “Cannot!!” And then she softly said, “Oh.”

Her daughter, on the other end of the phone conversation, confirmed what I had told her.

Fear manifests itself in weird ways.

I had been to a house in a neighborhood in the suburbs. I spoke with the gentleman, talked about different things, told him what I was doing, and then went on my way.

Somehow, I failed to gather the mapspot for his location, but didn’t realize it until I was almost done with the block.

I went down the rest of the block, and then returned to his sidewalk.

I was standing there collecting the mapspot–which I had previously described to him–when the front door flew open and he came running out demanding, “Why are you taking pictures of my house?”

I guess that could be considered a legitimate question, but the demanding tone indicated something more than simply gathering information. He was trying to intimidate me.

Number one, I am not easily intimidated. Number two, it is perfectly legal for me to take picture of any house that I can see from the street. Number three, I wasn’t taking pictures. Number four, I had just told him not more than 10 minutes prior what I was doing.

I calmly explained that I was the guy who had just been to his house, and that I had failed to get the mapspot that I had told him about.

“Oh,” he said, backing down from his posturing. “The lady across the street called me and said someone was outside my house taking pictures.”

Those of you reading this will have plenty of explanations as to why he might have been that way, but I still call it fear. He believed the negative that someone told him, rather than his own experience.

I met a lot of strange people during my time with the census, but I worked with just as many.

2010 Census–Pt. 2

My first job with the census was in the Spring and Summer of 2009.

I saw an ad in the paper stating that the US Census was in need of more than 700 people in our area. Well, that was a no-brainer for me.

I called, got the info, and appeared for the test.

The test, which was fairly standard for all of the operations of the cnesus, was basically to see if I could read, follow directions, compute simple math, and make distinctions. I passed and was called for an interview a few weeks later.

The phone interview was simple and to the point: do you want to work? are you available? will you work weekends? are you available for training at the (specified) time?

I showed up for training with at least 20 other people. I was selected as a Crew Leader Assistant for the operation known as Address Update.

Due to the many changes as a result of the 911-emergency phone system, it was necessary that the Census Bureau have current addresses for the population.

I won’t go into the details of how it all worked, but the design of the operation was apparently efficient. We were given specified areas to work, and we were to secure the correct address for each and every house in that area.

Our areas were assigned to us via a hand-held computer (HHC). That assignment included a map of the area and all of the addresses that were available from the previous census. It also included addresses that were sent to the Bureau from County and Post Office files. Those little computers were reputed to cost more than $3,000 (yes–three thousand dollars) each. They made our work and our communications with our supervisors easy to handle in a timely manner. (I’m not sure how many thousands of employees were using these across the country.)

It was our job to identify Housing Units (HU) and to map them on our HHC. (more on that later) We were to locate HU’s, enter the correct address for the HU, and delete any duplicate information that may have shown up in the system.

For instance, on my list of addresses in an area I might have something like this: (2) Green house w/black shutters and detached garage; (14) 1547 Toggle Lane. When I found my way to 1547 Toggle Lane, and saw a green house w/black shutters and a detached garage, then I knew I had a duplicate. I would go back into my list, find the description that matched, and mark (2) as a duplicate to be deleted.

All well and good. A marvelous system–or so I thought. The information that I collected and entered into the computer was “dumped” into the main computers that were setting up for the actual census. During the census, which began April of 2010, I had forms in which the address label was–you guessed it–Green house w/black shutters and detached garage!!

Why did I do what I did? Why did the government spend all that money? I was paid $11.50/hour plus $.55/mile for that Spring/Summer job. And this was the result of my labors? I’m a producer. I want to see results of my labor. I’ve never been one who needed to back up to the pay window for shame of what I had accomplished.

Somebody dropped the ball somewhere.