My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Is speaking English a requirement to become a 2010 Census employee? Apparently not.

The following report comes from San Antonio. Has anyone else experienced a 2010 Census worker who doesn’t speak English or is this an isolated case?

By Steve Lindscomb

SAN ANTONIO-Census workers are knocking on doors to get unanswered forms, but what would you do if that worker couldn’t speak your language? That’s what happened to one woman recently. When we first asked the Census Bureau about this incident that a viewer wrote us about, they found it hard to believe, but when we told them we ran into the very worker ourselves, and he really could not speak english, they had some questions to answer.

Sylvia Turner told us she was shocked. The census worker she talked to was very nice and courteous, but could not hardly put two or three english words together. “I tried, I stood there, I tried to be very patient and he could not speak one work clearly.”

She said she was surprised because she thought every census worker was tested for fluency in at least english. She didn’t want to get the worker in trouble, but somehow, the system broke down.

Her question was “are they speaking to these individuals or are they just taking applications.”

When we cruised around this north side neighborhood we happened to run into a census worker. And wouldn’t you know it…it had to be the same guy, because after talking to him for ten minutes, neither one of us knew what the other was trying to say. We didn’t want to embarrass him so we aren’t identifying him, but we did ask the census bureau if workers are tested and screened to communicate with the public.

A spokesperson would only read a statement to me over the phone. “While enumerators can take the skills test in Spanish, they must also then pass an English proficiency test. Enumerator training is conducted in English and, afterward, workers are observed and evaluated for English proficiency and their ability to conduct the survey. ”

The Census Bureau did tell us that if you run into a similar language problem, the worker has a form where you can indicate in which language you can answer questions. Another worker fluent in that language should come back to your house the next day.

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6 Responses to “Is speaking English a requirement to become a 2010 Census employee? Apparently not.”

  1. AxionJaxon Says:

    So a weather man in San Antonio is now covering the census in his blog — with unnamed sources and personal observations — and you treat it as true?

  2. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    No, I asked: Has anyone else experienced a 2010 Census worker who doesn’t speak English or is this an isolated case? SRM

  3. AxionJaxon Says:

    Robert Novak would be proud his foundation is funding such stellar journalism.

    Perhaps you can out a CIA agent too, sometime.

  4. Dessie Says:

    Several of our enumerators, and even two of our crew leaders can’t speak intelligible English. They are able to read and write but have such incredibly heavy accents can’t be understood.

    Not a widespread problem but a problem nonetheless.

  5. SAS Says:

    The test comes in two forms: there’s an English-language test, which most people take, as well as a Spanish-language skills test, which must be accompanied by a test of English proficiency. In truth, the English-proficiency test is very, very brief: ten questions or so, and geared more toward vocabulary more than conversational skill. I think the goal in designing the tests was that Spanish speakers would mostly enumerate other Spanish speakers, but would still need enough English fluency to complete the English-language training.

    The situation you’re describing sounds like it might be a fluke of hiring. In my LCO, we found that the people who wanted to take the Spanish-language test often did poorly enough that they had little chance of getting hired, unless a language-based hiring roster was needed. But I can see things being different elsewhere, especially in San Antonio. Keep in mind also that Census workers are hired by geography—the person you mention may have been one of the top scores in his census tract.

    But to be sending someone who clearly can’t enumerate in English to English-speaking households suggests that the CL and FOS aren’t effectively assigning their people. If my experience is anything to go on, minority language speakers are a precious resource—too precious to send out willy-nilly!

  6. angrycl Says:

    I know of at least one enumerator who had to be released because his English was not sufficient. Was upsetting to the crew leader who had to recommend his termination, but he also apparently couldn’t interact with respondents or understand instruction well enough to work in the field.