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.

Daily Sound Off: The Chicago Enumerator

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

May 26, 2010

I am an enumerator/Census taker in Chicago and this is my story of working for the U.S. Census Bureau over the past month.

My CLD has never had enough address binders for each of the approximate 15 enumerators working for it.  During training, some binders were split up, while a lucky few got a whole binder, me included.  However, the majority of my addresses were in a federally subsidized Section 8 building, where office staff refused me access and would not return my crew leader’s calls. The lower income families residing in this building need to be counted the most for funding, etc., especially since their housing is federally funded, but staff has been unfortunately uncooperative thus far.  I should have moved onto a new binder after the first week of work, but my CLD received only a handful more of binders during that first week and none since.

My CLD is now in the fourth week of work and has not received any new binders, despite my crew leader promising us new binders 2.5 weeks ago, at one point even telling us the day on which we would receive them!  At a meeting 1.5 weeks ago, she told us matter-of-factly that one of the reasons we weren’t receiving more work was because we had too many old EQ forms coming back with mistakes because she had failed to review them before she submitted them!  Forms are being corrected, addresses revisited, at what point have we submitted enough work to get new work?  Why are individuals who have finished their work forced to wait for others who have not?  Why are enumerators suffering for a crew leader’s mistakes?

It sure seems like crew leaders, others in supervisory positions, and those working in offices are putting in plenty of hours dealing with the mess and confusion of the 2010 Census, wasting taxpayers’ money, but many enumerators are barely able to put it any hours, when we are the ones supposed to be collecting data that IS the Census!  The work is not filtering down to us at the bottom of the bureaucracy.  I haven’t worked in the field for a week now, every week I have worked fewer and fewer hours, never near the 20 hours per week I was told to expect during training.  The most hours I ever put in was for training, inadequate training at that!

My crew leader decided to hold an additional training session after the second week to demonstrate common mistakes we had made on our EQs, when they could have easily been corrected if she had actually reviewed them like she is supposed to!  In fact, she said she was instructed to start writing enumerators up for mistakes, when they are the result of inadequate training and crew leader oversight!  I would also like to note that my crew leader chooses to meet during meal times at a McDonalds crowded with crack heads, not the most appropriate environment.

It is apparent that my crew leader is poorly trained and cannot answer many questions posed to her about Census policies and procedures.  Another example of this: Pay.  My crew leader signed off on several pay sheets I had filled out for training where I claimed 30 miles, which is what I drove round-trip to and from work.  I subsequently received a call from my LCO informing me that I was not allowed to claim those miles.  I talked to a supervisor, who informed me that if she signed off on those miles, she could be terminated from her job.  I told her that my crew leader had seen the miles and even said I would be reimbursed for them, and the supervisor at my LCO told ME to inform HER that enumerators can only claim mileage from home to work (which it turns out is IN the Enumerator Manual) and that it would be trouble for me if the pay sheets with 30 miles were submitted!  It was extremely inappropriate and strange to be threatened with responsibility for the termination of a LCO supervisor and the implication of my termination as well!  Once again, because of my crew leader’s severe ineptitude and inadequate training, the little guy at the bottom of the hierarchy gets the stick, thanks federal government.

The supervisor at my LCO told me that my pay sheets with the mileage would have to be sent back by courier to my FOS so that I could redo them.  Of course my FOS never received them.  I called the LCO supervisor again and at first she could not find any record of what had happened to my pay sheets.  She then discovered that someone had approved the miles!  For what she previously made out to be a serious violation of procedure, she laughed about it and seemed to want to chit chat with me.  I felt like she may have been drinking that night I talked to her.  Apparently, no one knows the mileage enumerators can claim and are approving reimbursements they shouldn’t be, wasting more taxpayer dollars!

My crew leader instructed us during training not to keep the duplicate copy of our pay sheets because they would be mailed back to us.  I double-checked this, unfortunately with the same supervisor at my LCO that I mentioned previously.  She also explicitly instructed me to submit both copies together.  However, one of my family members also working as an enumerator said everyone in her CLD was keeping their pay sheet copies.  I checked the Enumerator Manual and it explains that the copy is to keep.  I called Payroll to see what they had to say about this conflicting information, and the guy I spoke to advised me to keep the copy, but that the issue was up to crew leaders’ discretion!  Clearly, no one is aware of their own policies!  Surely, I have the right to keep the copy of my original work records!  I just keep the copy now, since there is no one clear directive.  This is just one instance of several, where I have received contradictory information from my crew leader or LCO versus what is written in the Enumerator Manual.  This whole operation is either incredibly inept, corrupt, or both.

Today, in the fourth week of field work, I called my LCO to ask when/if we are getting new binders, after being promised them for at least 2.5 weeks now.  The woman I spoke to said I shouldn’t be calling the LCO and that I should ask my crew leader, meaning that I must not step out of line in the hierarchy.  I explained that my crew leader and FOS clearly do not what is going on and do not have answers to my questions, so that was why I was calling the LCO.  She said it was too bad that was my situation, but that she could do “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” for me.  I quote.  I asked if she was not allowed to give me information regarding the issuance of new binders, but that did not seem to be the case.  She just refused to give me any information and told me she had talked to my FOS earlier in the day.  Don’t step out of line if you are on the bottom, know your place, and don’t ask questions if you work for the Census!

I am stuck talking to those directly above me who also know nothing.  I called my FOS today and she said she didn’t think we would be getting new binders.  She said we could be reassigned to another FOS, but she would check to make sure and call me back.  She always sounds sleepy and bewildered, I will probably have to call her back instead and lord knows if she will be any more informative.  I have been waiting for at least 2.5 weeks now, barely getting any hours in, on the promise of new binders, only to hear that there may not be any coming, and that my only chance for more work is to be reassigned four weeks in!

Two months and 20 hours per week I wish!  I was depending on this job for extra income this summer and it has amounted to barely anything, just waiting and hoping for work, rather than actually working, and trying to keep tabs on others’ incompetence.  Thanks for paying me to be trained for a job I barely even got to do federal government! OUTRAGEOUS.  The 2010 Census is such a poor reflection on the U.S. government, can’t we do better than this?

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