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: North Carolina problems not fixed…

This comes from North Carolina:

I started my Census work on April 27, 2010. At first, I was notified that my first week of Census work would be training and would be help near my home in Etowah, NC. At the last minute that was changed to a somewhat distant location in Asheville, NC.  The classroom instruction included complicated Census-taking requirements and presented quite a challenge with all the bureaucratic details from how to properly fill out time sheets (blue ballpoint pen only, times stated in quarter-hour increments and hours in 0.25 decimal blocks) to literally hundreds of pages of instructions. Even for me, a person with graduate degrees, this was a formidable amount of information to absorb. The last day of class was to use what is referred to as Address Assignment (AA) books which listed the addresses to be Enumerated. Howvere, the books were not available due to “computer problems”. So, no instruction in the use of the AAs could be done. The first experience with the AAs was the following week when we were actually performing the Census Enumeration.

Before we started Census work we all had to be fingerprinted. That is good and I have no problem with that security measure – except that I have read that convicted felons were accepted as Census-workers in spite to the figerprinting. A few days later I was notified that the quality of my fingerprints were unacceptable and that I needed to go to the Local Census Office (LCO) in Asheville to be re-fingerprinted. Of course, I was paid for my time ($11.50/hr) and mileage ($0.50/mile) to drive from my home to Ashville and back. As I came to find out a good percentage of my classmates also had to be refingerprinted.

When I started performing my Census work, instead of working locally, I was assigned to an area about 30 miles from my home. Again receiving time and mileage compensation to and from my house.

Every day we were all required to turn in our time-sheets for the previous day at the meeting place 30-miles from my home. An interesting aside is that even if one did not work on a given day they were required to turn in a timesheet for the prior day. In doing so they then needed to turn in a time sheet the next day for, perhaps, just the time and mileage incurred to turn in the time-sheet the previous day. This could prove to be a form of perpetual motion.

You have undoubtedly read or heard about the problems in paying the Census-workers. In spite of statements to the press by a Ms. Carla Gay of the Asheville LCO, payment errors were commonplace, not isolated instances, and, as best I can tell were NOT, in many cases, due to employee errors. Even if they were, Ms. Gay’s comments to the Press were unacceptable and just go to point out how complicated the time-sheet protocol was and what a lack of management experience she has.

Since many people took Census work due to dire financial situations, the paycheck error produced severe hardships. Those people who managed to reach the Regional Office in Charlotte were told that emergency checks would be sent by Federal Express to their home – allegedly at a cost of $25 per check! According to conversations I’ve had with Representative Heath Shuler’s office in Washington, Rep. Shuler has started an investigation in this but one example of mismanagement. I’m not optimistic that his investigation will go anywhere.

One problem I encountered early on in the Census was the lack of respondents that were home when I stopped at their residence. We were told in no uncertain terms in class, to seek out a “Proxy” – a neighbor to garner whatever information we could about the residence we were supposed to enumerate. We were further told that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES were we to know on any neighbor’s door to obtain Proxy information. The neighbor has be be outside on the street to approach them. Several weeks later when we were admonished for not competing more Enumerations we were questioned as to why we did not knock on neighbor’s doors to obtain Proxy inputs. We were then told we WERE supposed to know on doorrs. When we were permitted to do so our success rate increased appreciably.

Throughout the Census process I and others I spoke to were constantly asked by people we contacted why we were there since they had mailed in their Census Questionaires and, in many cases, had also been visited by other Census-workers. In my own case I mailed in my Questionaire before April 1 and yet, while I was out performing the Census a Census-worker visted my home to complete a Census.

I receive all my mail at a USPS PO Box. Toward the end of March was read a small notice posted in our Post Office that PO Box-holders would NOT receive Census forms. In my case I had to go to the local library, not the Post Office, to obtain a Census Questionaire. No PO Box holder I sebsequently spoke to ever knew that they would not receive a Census Form if they had a PO Box.  A month or so ago another notice was posted in our Post Office that, if you had a PO Box and wanted a Census form you could call an 800-number to have one mailed to you!

The last week presented a fiasco as far as Census Enumeration assignments were concerned. I was asked (on short notice) if I could perform Census work in some remote and distant locations (Cashiers and Highlands). This was fine with me, after all I WAS being paid time and mileage.I appears that many people were being sent to these areas and since the Census was clearly in a panic mode, several people were asked to deliver their completed Census form to the Asheville LCO. Again time and mileage for all.

A few weeks ago, for reasons I don’t know, we were informed to immediately turn in all Census forms and data, completed or not. Two days later materials were redistributed to we were told to continue our Census Enumeration.

One recent assignment I accepted was to drive to a “Wendy’s” in Cashiers, NC and wait for other Enumerators to turn in their forms so that I could drive them to the Asheville LCO. A sat there for about four hours, doing nothing. A census Crew Leader was already at “Wendy’s” and it appeared that if the LCO management could have waited aother hour after the first back of Questionaires were brough in the Crew Leader could have delivered all the Questionaires to Asheville. As it was, I made one trip and, supposedly, one hour later the Crew Leader made another one.

In taking to other Census-workers, it appears that my experiences were commonplace. The so-called Management for the 2010 Census is most definitely Reactive, not Proactive. Have they learned nothing from previos Census? Apparently not. I frequently encountered what I would call “panic management” with telephone calls informing me that so task had to be performed ASAP. I will stress that at no time was I subjected to pressure to enhgage in these assignments. But is was clear that panic as the motivation.

The above recounted episodes so upset me that I called Representative Heath Shuler’s, Senators Kay Hagan’s and Richard Burr’s offices in Washington.  At Senator Burr’s office I spoke to, Bryan, a staff member who informed me that the Senator has received number calls and had written a letter to Robert Groves, the Director of the 2010 Census. Ryan further informed me that Groves’ response addressed some issues but didn’t really provide satisfactory answers. In response to my question whether Dr. Groves (he is a Ph.D and a University of Michigan Professor), LuAnne Holifield (who, as far as I can determine, is the heard of the Asheville LCO) or Carla Gay could be fired, Ryan was pessimistic, saying that is is virtually impossible to fire anyone in Government employment. Besides, Groves was appointed, not hired.

Although I would never condone nor participate in violence to resolve issues such as this, I’ve come to understand and appreciate what would lead people to consider such acts. The feeling of the lack to power and the arrogance toward those who are suposedly there to serve us, the taxpayers, in infuriating.

As a side note, I recently had a brief meeting with Ms. Holifield. Her lack of any courtesy and just plain rudeness was disgusting.

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9 Responses to “Daily Sound Off: North Carolina problems not fixed…”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I’m sorry. Was this person bitching about working and being paid?

  2. nerfoo Says:

    Post title references problems not fixed. Which problems would those be? Each of these problems seems to be something that happened once & then that the emailer never encountered again, to then report whether it had been fixed.

    I think that a better title for this post might be ‘North Carolina problems reported’.

    I have only a high school diploma, but years & years of work experience. I didn’t have a problem understanding the materials presented in the handbook/manual or training. I found some of it repetitious, but, having worked in management before myself, I figured that was just there to make sure that the people who needed repetition in order to learn would learn what they needed to in order to do the job properly. Nothing new there, in the working world, anyway.

    Also, the AA Binders were discussed thoroughly, with examples and training scenarios in the Enumerator training handbook/manual. It was not necessary to have them in hand in order to understand how to use them when we got them.

    When an operation this size is done once every 10 years, by a completely new group of people every decade, using new technology and facing new societal challenges, I would be absolutely amazed if they could pull it off without some confusion, some mistakes, some thinking that they might have done things differently.

    Additionally, everyone is an armchair manager, thinking that they could have, would have, done things differently if they were in charge. But, for every plan that they think would work, there are just as many people who might think that *they* were doing it all wrong. For example, the Census could have hired and trained enough FOS’s, CL’s & rented enough LCO office space so that each enumerator could train in their own home town, saving money on travel time. But, then, there would be people complaining about all that wasted overhead.

    It is unfortunate that this enumerator and others that s/he spoke to were ‘constantly’ asked why they were visited by a NRFU enumerator when they stated that they had already mailed in their form. I was lucky in that I was only asked that occasionally :-) And, of course, I was able to understand why that might happen and explain it to the people that I was encountering in my work. I wish that someone had made the explanation simple enough for the emailing enumerator to understand so that s/he might have been able to explain it to others. It’s not that complicated, but, then, I didn’t think that the training material was all that complicated either.

    NRFU addresses were pulled in order to put the binders together. Often those addresses were pulled before all mailed in forms had been entered into the computer system. So, some addresses got NRFU EQ’s even if their original form had been mailed already. Every day, the CL in my CLD would let one person or another know that the LCO had received a questionnaire for a particular NRFU address in their AA binder & ask them to line out that address & return that NRFU EQ to the LCO with an info-comm.

    Additionally, some people mailed in their original questionnaire, but it was missing information or had some illegible information on it. Those addresses were added to the NRFU operations, too.

    As for speaking to a census worker & then being visited/called again. That could happen if there was an apartment address mixup in their building, if the building/complex was spread across multiple AA’s. So, one enumerator might speak to others in the building in order to fix the mixup. Then, the other enumerator would end up doing the same.

    Or, the second visit could be for quality control reasons. The first enumerator did not get complete, legible or reliable info, so the second one was sent to double-check that enumerators work, or follow up for more info.

  3. LCO-AM Says:

    Sounds like a day in the life of the census, SOP.

    Better than not working IMO

  4. Enumerate this Says:

    Yawn. That was five minutes I’ll never get back.

  5. jumpygrouch Says:

    I cannot believe this person would even mention resorting to violence over the issues in this “sound-off” — clearly this person is a disturbed individual if the census enumeration instruction was “formidable” to absorb and they can’t abide normal human issues that would come up in an operation that is created only once every 10 years! These are the types of people who shouldn’t be working on the Census, and hearing that they were asked to return all their Census materials makes me suspect the LCO was hoping to have better staff but realized they were stuck with who they’d got — these geniuses.

  6. GS-X Says:

    Very interesting report from North Carolina.

    If the census form obtained at the library said Be Counted at the top, it is a self-enumeration that the Census Bureau considers suspect until proven otherwise. Those Be Counted forms go into a separate “pile” until the Field Verification operation begins. Be Counted forms with addresses already known to the Census Bureau are counted (but not removed from NRFU) while addresses not previously known must be checked during Field Verification. If the address on the Be Counted form is not located during Field Verification, you won’t Be Counted!

    Is anyone else getting the picture that many, many addresses which mailed back the form mailed to them,
    were not properly removed from NRFU? I don’t mean Late Mail Returns, I mean people who received their census form in March, mailed it back in March and still got one or more enumerator visits. No wonder some of those people got angry, even threatening at enumerators.
    Additionally, does anyone else think that enumerators in some areas got binders that at least partially duplicated binders given to other enumerators?

  7. Anonymous Says:

    I’ll briefly response to some of the comments to my Post:

    1. You may quibble with the Subject title. I did not choose it, the Web Site moderator did.

    2. No, I am not complaining about working and being paid – that’s why I took the job. I AM complaining as a taxpayer about the inefficiency and waste of taxpayer money and the chaotic disorganization.

    3. Many of my co-workers DIDwork prior Census enumerations – including those in management at the Asheville LCO.

    4. While I did mention violence, the respondent entirely misses my point. I say, specifically I do NOT condone violence, nor would I resort to it myself. What I, clearly stated I believe, is that when people feel powerless and frustrated I can understand why they consider taking matters into their own hands. As far as the “once-every ten years” comment – Census work in an ongoing process. See .

  8. No one Says:

    What’s the problem? I sat in a Mikkie D’s for 4 hours waiting for an answer to my question and got paid for all 4 hours and didn’t complain one bit. Yea, the census had problems but it sure did help my bank account every Wed. For 16.25 an hour I will sit wherever the hell they want for four hours with a big smile on my face.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    “No one”: Your response saddens and frustrates me greatly. Who, pray tell, do you think is paying you? The Taxpayers – and that includes you and me. You fit in well with some of the people I worked with when they gloated at the extra (unnecessary) miles and hours for which they were reimbursed. I will leave politics out of this discussion. However, yes, I am being paid by the U.S. Government. But I sure as hell don’t want to see them provide yet another example of Government waste.

    Shame on you! You miss my point. Or maybe you just don’t give a damn as long as you get yours.