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.

Posts Tagged ‘human contact’

New Census policy may encourage the spread of Swine Flu

Friday, May 1st, 2009

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Immediately after MyTwoCensus broke the story that Census Bureau “listers” have finished their jobs way ahead of schedule (and were then released from their temporary duties, making them ineligible for unemployment), a tip from a mid-Atlantic state came into our inbox…

It appears that there has been a sudden change of policy within the Bureau: Whereas two days ago, the Census Bureau was proud that it had completed so many tasks early (and lied to its employees about how long they would be working), it seems that now the Census Bureau has gone to the other extreme, by adding tons of unecessary work for its low-level employees, work that could enable the spread of Swine Flu.

We assure you that the credibility of our source has been established. As we hope to protect that person’s identity, we will not reveal anymore information. Here’s the scoop:

“So the only people on the streets now are listers and Quality Control listers, people making the list of addresses and double-checking parts of the list of addresses.

It is exceedingly simple work, making sure “100 Main St.” in the computer matches up with “100 Main St.” on the ground. Ninety-nine percent of homes have their numbers posted, so there is no need to actually interact with anyone. The work moves pretty fast.

Until yesterday.

That’s when the regional census office decreed that we need to knock on every door and make a “courtesy contact.”

Here is the e-mail from the regional office:

“The purpose of this message is to ensure all Listers clearly and fully understand that they are “required” to knock on “every” door to verify addresses during the address canvassing operation.”

Again, almost none of this work actually requires talking with residents. (This is unlike the phase of the operation in 2010, when we’ll be knocking on the doors of people who don’t turn in their forms.) Making us knock on every door is going to slow our work to a crawl. And it will be completely pointless. During a “courtesy contact,” we don’t ask any questions, and merely say hi.

But in this time of swine flu anxiety it seems strange to require government employees to be making all kinds of unnecessary contact with dozens of strangers a day in their homes”

When a pandemic could be upon us, why has the Census Bureau decided to start making unnecessary “courtesy contacts” with citizens? Why is meaningless work being created for Census Bureau employees? Is it to prevent what happened in Philly from happening elsewhere by going to the opposite extreme and adding non-essential work to the mix?

The Census Bureau uses the following statistic as a talking point: For each additional 1% of Americans who turn in their Census questionnaire on time, the Bureau saves $80-90 million. However, knocking on doors to say “hi” has little to no correlation with ensuring that people fill out their questionnaires in the fall. And these “courtesy” visits could very well be facilitating the inadvertent spread of Swine Flu germs, endangering both Census Bureau listers and the unsuspecting citizens they visit.