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: No internet use on the job

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

(Every day MyTwoCensus published one submission.)

My CL told us today that we may no longer use the Internet to do any digging while working as enumerators. Typing in someone’s address — “123 Main St.,” for example constitutes a breach of confidentiality, we’re told.

What fucking nonsense.

The Web has been a great help — not as a substitute for interviewing, but developing leads for interviews. Examples include:

– Looking up ownership information on city/county databases. 123 Main St. may be a rental property owned by John Smith in a neighboring town, but you have no way of learning this — or Mr. Smith’s address/phone number — without accessing government property ownership records.

– Looking up information about a resident who you have not been able to reach. Example: You know John Smith lives at 123 Main St., but you don’t know his phone number and he’s never home. You learn from Google that he works at Zyx Co. nearby. You cal Zyx, ask for Mr. Smith, and enumerate him over the phone.

– Looking up phone numbers for neighbors/proxies in reverse address lookups.

To be clear, we’re not — or shouldn’t be — using Web-sourced data as a substitute for enumeration. The form is always filled out in person or on the phone with a knowledgeable party. But in many cases the best way to develop contact information for a knowledgeable party is with Web-based tools.

Utter fucking madness. The people running the census would screw up a three-car funeral.

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28 Responses to “Daily Sound Off: No internet use on the job”

  1. anonymous Says:

    Doesn’t the CB already make phone calls to people? Plus going all collection agency on the public is probably not advisable. Would you like me calling your ex girlfriend asking about your race? Seriously. Think.

  2. EQNV Says:

    I don’t agree with using any information that the NRFU or its proxy did not provide. We need to keep the big picture in mind. Just like the nonsense of calling a NRFU after the enumerator finished the EQ. People do not appreciate 1000 calls when they have already provided the info. Or calling a NRFU after they convincingly stated that they called the info in already that morning or the previous night after they read the NV. Give the process time to work.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    On the contrary, our LCO has been ENCOURAGING us to utilize the Internet to get leads on difficult-to-contact residents.

  4. CLA Dave Says:

    If not for phone numbers found on internet, I’d have been turning in a lot more “no contact” questionnaires.

  5. James Says:

    I can see finding a home address and home number, but I wouldn’t dare go any farther than that. Certainly not finding a person’s work number and calling them their.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Field Division policy does allow Census Bureau employees to search for information on the internet, but the browsing history has to be cleared.

    Use private mode and you are not in violation of any Field Division policies.

  7. another mouse Says:

    Our CL has encouraged us to do so as well. It certainly does not replace an actual interview, but without it we’d be way behind. Much of the information is public anyways. It’s pretty much the same as asking a neighbor. Yeah, the internet can’t serve as a proxy, but is more likely to be willing to give info.

  8. Enumerate this Says:

    @James: You’d visit someone’s house 10 times at God knows at 8 a.m. Monday or 8 p.m. Saturday, you’d question all their neighbors, but you wouldn’t call him at work at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday? That makes no sense.

    I’m the author of the submission to Morse. To be crystal clear, I would never, ever use Web-generated information to fill out an EQ. But it’s been absolutely essential to generating leads that allows me to fill out EQs. Especially rentals and vacancies. A couple real-life examples:

    1) A house in a nice neighborhood that seems furnished and cared-for but no one ever answers the door. Original NV still stuck in the door. Through city land records, I learn the owner’s name and the tax bill mailing address — out of state. Using, I find his phone number and call. The owner tells me that he maintains the home for occasional use as a second home, that he rarely stays there, and that no one was staying there on April 1. Voila. Done.

    2) An apartment in a three-unit house split into apartments is vacant. Neighbors tell me the family moved out May 1 but they don’t know the names. Neighbors also tell me the landlord’s name but say that he is an asshole who won’t answer their calls. I get the landlord’s address (in a neighboring community) from city property records. I get the number through the phone book and call many times. No answer. I drive out there. Sad-ass suburban wasteland McMansion with dead grass and a dry fountain. The only thing missing was a Hummer on cinder blocks. The landlord wasn’t home, but the lady who answered the door gave me the name and workplace of the “property manager.” I look up the workplace number at, call the guy there and get the information I need.

    3) Well-kept house in OK neighborhood. No one ever answered the door, but NVs were always gone on the next visit. Neighbors were useless. City property records gave me the name and address of the owner. It was close by, so I just drove over there. Turns out the owners’ adult daughter lives there. So I was able to use them as a proxy and complete the EQ.

    I hate to give up on an EQ. I get the sense that some people spend about half their time filling out INFO-COMMs explaining why they couldn’t find out anything about this place or that place. This only happens once every 10 years, so why not give it our best shot? Again, this isn’t looking people up on facebook. It’s using authoritative sources to reach authoritative respondents.

    (Aside: I got all kinds of shit for putting in for $15 in mileage on one of these leads. “Unauthorized travel,” etc. etc. Never mind that our crew leader habitually makes us sit and wait for 60-90 minutes past our scheduled appointment while she screws around or is merely a no-show herself.)

  9. Enumerate this Says:

    And another thought, since it’s 1:30 a.m. We’re the effing federal government, y’all. People expect us to be omnipotent. Why not actually act like we’re not dumber than the SNL caricature?

    I had a guy read me the riot act about his dead mother-in-law’s vacant home. All I wanted to know was “was the house vacant April 1?” But he went on and on about how the Social Security Administration knew Ma was dead, so why I am I calling him? Why didn’t the SSA tell me? His wife’s mom has gone on “to her eternal reward,” and I don’t know this? How can I not know this? And he went on and on. I tried to tell him as delicately as possible that in a large bureaucracy like the federal government, occasionally one hand does not know what the other is doing. It was inconceivable to this guy that I, as the only representative of the federal government he has met in God knows how long, did not know that his mother-in-law was dead. (It took about five attempts for me to convey that the controlling issue wasn’t her life or death but whether anyone was IN THE FUCKING HOUSE ON APRIL 1.)

    Crazy thought and I’ll sign off: Taxpayer dollars would be better spent if each enumerator had X many searches at at his disposal. The feds could negotiate a cheap per-search fee of $5 or something. The cell phone numbers and DOBs would be invaluable, and it couldn’t be any worse than paying me $14 an hour to go knock on someone’s door 15 times.

  10. HermHollerith Says:

    Enumerate this, very interesting posts. You ought to be hired to help plan the 2020 census.

  11. anonymous Says:

    Enumerate this is correct.

  12. anonymous Says:

    The internet reverse address searches are helpful if used ethically. However, there were some CL, CLA, and Enumerators in my area who did not respect personal privacy information.

  13. notsoamused Says:

    The internet is an invaluable tool for location information. Address reversals, assessor websites for property owner information and also to determine if an address really is the vacant lot I have been going to over and over, as assessor records will show if there are or are not improvements on the land. All of this information is in the public domain and how can it possibly compromise anyone’s personal private information when I consider using a next door neighbor as a proxy far more intrusive.

  14. Mike Says:

    Ayup that’s what we’ve been told. Of course as long as you get completed EQs and don’t tell the person being interviewed that you got their info from the net, it’s considered a’ok.

  15. Multiple Anonymous Says:

    Just found out my CL and his CLA were fired this evening.

  16. Lazy enumerators Says:

    The Internet is only necessary if the enumerator is lazy or not willing to actually do the job. NRFU is an INTERVIEW operation – if you can’t get the info from a household member, you go to a proxy. It’s as simple as that. Internet info is unreliable, and yes, it can lead to PII/Title 13 violations. A decent enumerator can do the job without using the Internet as a crutch.

  17. Hard working enumerator Says:

    I am an enumerator in a rural area. I was assigned a house without an address, just a map spot, an hour away from my small town. At the end of a miles long gravel road in the middle of nowhere was a gate across the road with red KEEP OUT! signs on it. I could see a small house about a half mile up the road but was afraid to walk around the KEEP OUT signs in case the owner had dogs or guns to keep intruders away. There were no other houses around. I saw a blue 911 post with a number on it by the gate. I looked this number up on the County Assessor’s site and found the name of the owners. This allowed me to phone and get an interview. I am not a lazy enumerator. We are allowed to telephone addresses after making personal visits, but have NO WAY to get telephone numbers without names.

  18. Another Census Worker Says:

    I used the Internet to get phone numbers and names through reverse address lookup after a personal visit. Most of the time the phone numbers are wrong (rural area, in a zone where an area code was split, people economize by just having a cell phone.) Sometime I would get lucky and reach the address I wanted.

    I hardly ever got a response back from the Notice of Visit. Getting a Proxy in the small towns was easy — find the town gossip — but in the real rural areas, it was difficult.

  19. Anonymous in FL Says:

    In my county, the Property Appraiser’s website has a database where you can look up information by address such as name & phone numbers of owners. I’m an LCO clerk, but from what I understand enumerators are encouraged to use the site and we sometimes return EQs to the field with “contact Property Appraiser” when they try to return them without a proxy and/or give bullsh-t in the notes like “no proxy nearby”, “neighbors don’t know whether person lives there”, etc.

  20. California FOS Says:

    Enumerate this, I love the way you think. Wish you were in my district. (I know you’re not because you say you make $14 an hour, and my enumerators in Southern California get $16.50.) I spend too much time every day reading the InfoComms from people who “can’t” find the slightest bit of information about an address that’s in their own damn neighborhood. I’ve started sending those cases to one of my other crew leaders, who has a couple enumerators who seem to be able to cut through all the BS and complete interviews with just about anyone. Funny, they drive across town to an unfamiliar address and manage to get a CI on the first try after the neighborhood enumerator supposedly struck out on three NVs or REs or OTs with no data collected. You make an excellent point when you say we only do this once a decade, so why not give it an honest effort?

  21. CL axg11 Says:

    No, I think it makes sense to ban the use of the internet, even for “tracking down leads”. If a CL is actively encouraging their enumerators to do this, they’re doing something else wrong.
    The only reason to do this sort of “internet sleuthing” is to find elusive “problem” cases. Here’s what I do with my crew as far as problem/refusal/NV/NC cases are concerned. When enumerators get to the point when all they’ve got in their binders are two or three very difficult cases, I have them turn in their binder and put the problem cases in my problem pile. I bring the problem pile to my daily meeting (same time, same place every day) and my enumerators pick seven problem cases they think they can do. They never need to use the internet, because they’re able to draw on their rich knowledge of my CLD.

  22. CL axg11 Says:

    This just in: our FOS told us that for serious, intractable problem cases the enumerator is to act as the proxy with the CL as the interviewer and (I guess) the FOS initials.
    That should wrap things up in time for VDC…

  23. Enumerate this Says:

    @Lazy enumerators: I would speculate you’re not doing much work in the field because of your blind faith in door-knocking and your belief that every neighbor knows everything in every other neighbor.

    Again, to be clear, I only suggest using electronic tools for tough cases. When I got a new book I spent a few days picking the low-hanging fruit by knocking on doors. For the remainders I would look up ownership information using the assessor’s Web site and phone numbers and start making calls. All my CIs end with an interview with a knowledgeable, responsible party.

    @California FOS: Thanks for the kind words. I may have slightly adjusted my pay rate to obscure my location — or maybe I didn’t — but I am not in SoCal.

  24. Lazy enumerators Says:

    @Enumerate This: I have plenty of field experience, as well as plenty of experience working with field employees at all levels. I was an enumerator last summer in address canvassing, I served as an FOS for two operations earlier this year, and I am an office operations supervisor now. I know that using the Internet as a resource is completely unnecessary if you know what you’re doing in the field. It’s also a very slippery slope. You sound like you’re a responsible enumerator who would never use the Internet except in difficult situations, but how do we prevent lazy enumerators from using for every house they visit where nobody answers the door on the first knock? Unfortunately, allowing good enumerators like yourself the privelege of using the Internet is no good, because the bad enumerators will take advantage of it. That leads to an inaccurate, untrustworthy count.

  25. Current CL Says:

    So what it comes down to for some people is:

    “Don’t use the internet because, even though it is publicly available information, it is an invasion of privacy. Don’t go to the door more than 3 times because it’s against what we were originally taught. Just submit it as a no contact or proxy, because that’s the only thing we can do!”

    Excuse me, but if ANY of my people brought that to me, they would be out of a job so fast their head would still be spinning!

    My folks are instructed to find owner of record and phone number after they have completed one personal visit and left an NV. During their first personal visit, they are supposed to go to neighbors and find out if the neighbor has a phone number and name to get in touch with the residents. They also test the waters for future proxy interviews with the neighbors. They are to wait 2 days prior to calling the phone number they found. They are instructed to leave a message introducing themselves and asking the respondent to call them back. They wait for 2 days before another contact attempt, to allow the respondent to call back.

    We are only given 6 at most records of contact, three of which are supposed to be personal. If there are no neighbors available, or the neighbors don’t know, how else are you going to find the phone number?

    Bottom line – why take away one of the few ways our enus have to get in touch with the residents?

    @Lazy Enumerators – when you first started, in the very first census op you ever did, did you have to deal with the people who consistently refuse, those who claim they mailed theirs in last week because the CB website says it’s not too late, those who are home but refuse to answer the door, those who never call you back? I can say (now that my CLD is at or close to 95%) that 75% of our total cases are what you would classify as “difficult situations.” Remember, these are the people who didn’t bother to send in their forms on time, or didn’t want to. The easy ones are the people who do CIs without having to be visited 5 times and called 5.

  26. Jo Says:

    I’m at about 97-98% right now. The last 2% are serious problem cases. We’ve had at least 3-4 people go to each of these problem cases, and we’ve been given the approval to exceed the 6 contact attempts. Every time an enumerator goes out with 10-15 tough cases, he/she will wind up getting a CI with 1-2… but these last 1-2% are really tough.

    We just started turning in EQ’s with proxy counts only in the last few days.. I’m still not sure if those are going to be coming back or not.

    I really hope that we will be given the opportunity to work through those last 1-2% of tough cases. The Internet would really help, but we’ve been told that we can’t use it. I know that a few Enums and CL’s are using it to find phone numbers anyway.

  27. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    I have to go along with what seems to be the consensus here, which is that judicious use of on-line resources is not only OK but essential in solving “problem” cases, but otherwise not to be used.

    I ended up doing an online search for a problem property in one of my AAs, one which seemed to be vacant and for which I could find absolutely no proxies (so much for Lazy Enumerator’s faith that one can always find a proxy: no, many times you cannot). I called the county assessor’s office, which gave me the owner’s name and address, but not their phone # as a matter of policy. Well, the address clearly wasn’t going to do me any good, as it was far out of town, so I used or some such to get the owner’s phone # and contact them.

    I can’t see any ethical or other problems with doing this. As others have mentioned, the Internet should never be used to complete an EQ; it’s simply a tool to locate the real human bean so they can be contacted regarding the problem address.

  28. SNARFU Says:

    In 2000, I worked as a CL in a university town and we did not receive binders until after the school year had ended and most students had vacated for the summer. We were actively encouraged to use online resources to help us find owners, parents, or students to interview about April 1. Understand that the S.O.P. about finding proxies is useless when the whole population has flown the coop. By encouraging and managing use of the internet, we were able to help make sure that enumerators were using all the tools available as well as spotting any malingerers who used it as a crutch.

    The current line about PII being intercepted online is BS. It’s easier for the honchos to ban web usage wholesale rather than to properly train in use of online resources and to ensure that competent people are in place to manage. Pure CYA. Better to miss cases and not have a more complete and accurate census than to risk mis-management.