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 ‘Kansas’ Spike in Census errors on campus

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The following piece comes from, which is a project of the Kansas Policy Institute, and is run by a team of veteran journalists:

By Gene Meyer, June 17, 2010

(KansasReporter) TOPEKA, Kan. – The Kansas Secretary of State’s office has found a big spike in census errors on Kansas campuses that could affect the redrawing of electoral boundaries throughout the state.

Census workers in the secretary of state’s office found significant errors in 30 percent of 25,000 of the more than 100,000 responses they received this spring for a special survey that Kansas conducts each 10 years in connection with the federal decennial census.

By comparison, only 9 percent of the comparable forms turned in 10 years ago were flawed, said Abbie Hodgson, the office’s public affairs director. Many of the latest errors appeared to involve missing information, she said.

State workers need to contact students and resolve the mistakes now to avoid bigger problems as Kansas legislators redraw Congressional, Kansas Legislature and Kansas State Board of Education boundaries during the next two years, said Chris Biggs, Kansas’ secretary of state.

“It’s important that students complete the adjustment form so that they are counted in their hometowns during redistricting,” Biggs said Thursday. “We’re in the process of reaching out…to ensure that we have complete and accurate information.”

Federal census numbers are used to recalculate everything from boundaries for federal and state legislative districts to the equitable distribution of about $400 billion in annual, population-linked spending within each state, said Rich Gerdes, an assistant regional director of the U.S. Census, in Kansas City, Kan.

But exactly how states use those numbers to draw legislative boundaries and divide the money usually is up to state legislatures so long as their members follow broad guidelines regarding equal representation. Kansas and at least seven other states require lawmakers there to make some specific adjustments to federal numbers that most will receive nine or 10 months from now.

In Kansas, a constitutional amendment passed sometime before the 1990 federal census requires that college students and military service members  be counted as residents of their home towns, not the campus or military communities where they might live nine or more months a year.

“That’s different from how we list them on the federal census,” said Gerdes. “We would list them where they live most of the year.”

Legislators use the federal numbers to calculate U.S. Congressional districts and the state-adjusted numbers to determine state legislative and school board districts. And populations can change markedly between the calculations. Heavily populated Johnson County, in northeastern Kansas, gained nearly 2,600 additional residents in 2000, when absent college students were sent home statistically. Less densely populated Riley County, further west, lost more than 13,000 residents when Fort Riley families and Kansas State University students by the same process. (more…)

Has this happened in your area?

Monday, June 7th, 2010

MyTwoCensus received the following tip, and we are trying to verify its validity:

Census workers in KS have been told that they are supposed to get information by any means possible to include going to court house property assessment office, registrar of deeds office, get car tags and go to DMV for info.

Please write about your experiences in the comments section.

Update: Details About Vangent’s Call Center In Utah

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

The following is an excerpt from a longer article in The Salt Lake Tribune:

About 1,200 full- and part-time jobs, expected to last only about 10 months, are coming to the Salt Lake Valley beginning in January as part of the 2010 census. Information on pay ranges for the call center jobs offered by Vangent Inc., for which hiring will begin this fall, wil be available in another month, but they are coming under opportune circumstances, if not an at opportune time. Employees will work in a former Discover Card call center in Sandy. “They [Vangent] are not only coming into a ready-made facility, but they are coming into a ready-made labor force,” said Mark Knold, chief economist for the state Department of Workforce Services. “We have a lot of call centers in the area, and there have been layoffs at various ones.” Utah’s unemployment rate jumped to 5.7 percent from 5.4 percent in June, and unemployment claims are running at a clip of 3,000 a week, compared with a normal 1,000 or so. “Too bad they can’t do it right away,” he said of the projected January start time for the new jobs. Vangent, a Census Bureau subcontractor based in Arlington, Va., will operate the nearly 19-year-old facility in Sandy as one of three national call centers, said spokeswoman Eileen Rivera. Workers will answer hot line questions from Americans about the upcoming U.S. census. Other centers will operate in Lawrence, Kan., and Phoenix. Rivera said salary information and a breakdown about the number of part-time and full-time jobs should be available in September on Vangent’s Web site, Vangent has a track record for operating information centers for the Census Bureau during the every-10-year counting of the U.S. population, she said, noting that the company “had a similar role” during the 2000 census. “It’s such a big task that the government has to contract out parts of the census because they don’t have the manpower,” she said. Vangent was awarded the 2010 contract three years ago. The census is providing temporary job opportunities for more than 2,000 Utahns. In January, the bureau recruited 1,000 workers for two- to three-month positions to handle neighborhood-canvassing duties. The jobs paid $11.50 an hour and up.

Workers: Problems Cloud W. Kansas 2010 Census Effort

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I rarely classify an article as a MUST-READ, but the article below is surely a MUST-READ. Thanks to the stellar reporting of Mary Clarkin of The Hutchinson News, we have the following piece:

Three who had roles in address check speak of technological, pay issues.

By Mary Clarkin – The Hutchinson News

Lisa Stone, Patricia Wedel and Pamela Richardson thought they knew what they were getting into.

Favorable experience working on the U.S. Census prompted them to sign up to help Kansas count its population for 2010. The process began this spring with the address canvassing phase.

It does not generate much notice because it is not the actual people-counting event, but the address check is the “cornerstone of a successful Census,” the acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau told Congress in March.

Appointed to leadership roles in their respective territories, Stone of Dodge City, Wedel of Wichita, and Richardson of Manhattan, set to work.

But within hours of one another in late May, all three women resigned in protest. In separate interviews, they described what happened – and told why they strongly suspect the data for western Kansas is deficient.

Stone’s territory

At the end of crew leader training, Stone learned she would be in charge of quality control for the western third of the state. She asked if the territory could be divided. She said she was told no, the decision had been made at the regional Kansas City, Mo., office responsible for a six-state area.

“I’m not really a quitter. I’ve taken on big jobs before,” she said, so she tackled it.

Recruiting foot soldiers to verify addresses and then sending out another wave of workers to audit the results became challenging in western Kansas. Stone said the pay was partly to blame.

In western Kansas, the hourly pay rate for Census workers was $10, plus mileage. Elsewhere in the state, some people performing the same task received at least $3 an hour more.

Another handicap was technology. For the first time, Census workers had to use handheld computers, instead of pencil and paper.

“The handheld computers had a pretty high failure rate. By my estimate, about 40 percent of them weren’t usable. They had to be sent back to Topeka and swapped out,” Stone said. “They would send us replacements, but we wasted a lot of time.”

Sprint was the telecommunications network for the Census, but the scarcity of Sprint towers in western Kansas required workers to plug the handheld computers into a phone jack to transmit data.

“That really slowed things down, and there were days when the transmit just wouldn’t go through,” Stone said.

As Census officials monitored progress across Kansas, Stone found her district compared with more urban areas with plenty of workers and better technology connections.

“They kept telling me to go faster,” she said.

Headquarters supplied more people, she said. Unfortunately, extra field workers only exacerbated problems of overloaded handheld computers.

“It did fry out the circuits on one person’s computer,” she said.

Wedel feels the heat

Westen Kansas was always behind in the process, and Patricia Wedel said she “took the heat for that.”

Wedel was field operations supervisor in quality control for about two-thirds of the state, including the western half. As Stone’s superior, Wedel was empathetic.

The territory should have been broken into more districts, in Wedel’s view.

“Topeka claimed they couldn’t get enough employees in western Kansas,” she recalled.

She also attributed part of the problem to the decision to pay workers there the lowest rate.

Wedel, too, was vexed by the technology hurdles, requiring most workers to seek out a landline to transmit data.

Census officials advised workers to use the phone jacks at city halls or police stations, Wedel said, but that had the drawback of potentially tying up the only landline at some public offices.

“It was a very frustrating experience,” Wedel said, citing pressure from both the Topeka and Kansas City offices to move quickly.

Informed by a quality-control worker that the data for Clark County was incorrect, Wedel became concerned. But, she said, officials repeatedly stressed they wanted workers to limit the workweek to 40 hours.

There was “no way” they could accomplish the job under those time constraints, Wedel said.

“They really made it impossible for Kansas to get an accurate count out west,” she said.

Wedel expressed dismay at a lack of professionalism she sometimes experienced, including the time an official in the Kansas City office urged management to “kick their butts” to speed up the productivity of workers in the field.

Richardson takes calls

As a crew leader for a north-central Kansas territory that included Russell County, Richardson also wound up with more counties – 20 in all – than she originally anticipated.

“Really from the beginning, it was like bait and switch,” Richardson said.

She initially received the wrong address for the Abilene training site – the address given belonged to a private residence.

Because of another event occurring in Abilene, the Census ended up booking rooms in a cheap motel for training class participants, Richardson said. Some rooms didn’t have working phones or temperature controls. Richardson used her own card to guarantee rooms at another motel for some of the trainees.

In a perfect world, maybe the four-day allotted training would have been enough, she said.

But handheld computers crashed, delaying training. Some trainees had never touched a computer in their life, she also said.

“I knew it was going to be nothing but chaos,” she said.

Richardson, like other crew leaders, used a handheld computer to do payroll – a daily filing requirement – and to send out regular area assignments to workers in the field.

“I sat here glued to this thing,” Richardson said of a computer that took ever longer to transmit data. Even bathroom breaks did not separate her from the handheld computer.

Phone calls poured in constantly, too, from people with questions. Luckily, she had another cell phone at home, and family used that phone to reach her.

“We were supposed to go out on personal observation,” Richardson said, “but I had nothing but phone calls, phone calls, phone calls.”

Richardson found herself living and breathing the Census.

“You can’t turn in all your hours,” she noted.

Census staff in Topeka “never had any solution to the problem,” she said. “‘Pam, just do the best you can,'” she said she heard.

Richardson knew Stone’s territory lagged behind all the others in the state. The real problem for Stone was transmission, Richardson said, but they kept “threatening her like she was inadequate.”

When Stone resigned, about only 20 percent of western Kansas was finished, but an influx of workers from eastern Kansas arrived and the job was “magically” done in a little over a week, Richardson observed.

“In my mind, it’s impossible that they did western Kansas,” she said.

‘All the nightmares’

The handheld computers achieved notoriety before they were ever placed in the hands of Census workers.

The Florida-based Harris Corp. won a $600 million contract in 2006 to supply the small computers to the 2010 Census. In a dress rehearsal in 2007, however, workers experienced trouble transmitting data. Also, the computers would freeze.

In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office put the 2010 U.S. Census on the “high-risk” list. The U.S. Department of Commerce scrapped plans to use the computers for the actual census, but deemed it too late to replace the computers with paper for the 2009 address check.

Lyle VanNahmen, Spearville, regarded working on the Census as akin to “a patriotic duty.” As an auditor on Stone’s crew, he said the handheld computer was “pretty slick” in the field.

However, VanNahmen spoke of the transmission problems and the lack of a paper trail. He thought Stone should have been supplied a laptop computer, instead of the more limited handheld computer, for her role.

In VanNahmen’s opinion, western Kansas “was set up to fail.”

“It chaps me,” VanNahmen said, that workers brought in to finish up the canvassing received overtime pay. And he calls it “bizarre” that the job wrapped up in slightly over a week.

Howard Mead, a crew leader responsible for areas in Sedgwick and Sumner counties, said that territory managed to complete the job ahead of schedule.

“Western Kansas had all the nightmares,” Mead said.

State Rep. Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, a former Kansas Speaker of the House whose district is in the western Census district, said concerns about this Census had reached him. He also said he knew firsthand about the challenge posed there, where some physical locations and mailing addresses aren’t the same.

Pressure all around

The address canvassing phase is essentially complete, said Nancee Torkelson, the local Census office manager in Topeka.

“I think we’re probably good,” she said.

As for the status of Clark County, Torkelson said anything that was not done correctly was redone by the quality assurance team.

“For the most part, western Kansas absolutely stepped up to the plate and did most of their own,” Torkelson said.

Asked about transmission challenges, Torkelson said there were “a few areas” that did not have good coverage, but overall, the handheld computers performed better than expected.

“I think they can improve upon the handhelds, but I think they’re on the right track,” she said.

At the mention of Census workers who were not happy with the operation, Torkelson said, “I have not had any feedback on that through this office.”

“I had not had anyone call me,” she said.

Dennis Johnson, regional director of the U.S. Census, said the unit of work was houses, so the projected workload for a territory was based on those numbers. Worker pay varied, he said, because the Census looked at Labor Department wage rates for areas.

“We don’t do that helter-skelter,” he said.

To accommodate areas outside the Sprint network, the handheld computers offered the phone jack functionality, he noted.

There’s always pressure to make sure the work gets done because there is a “very firm” deadline for the Census, Johnson said.

“If they felt pressure, I can believe that,” he said.

“We anticipated challenges,” Johnson said, but for the most part, he was “very pleased” with the work to date.

Still open

Stone and VanNahmen talked hesitantly about their Census experiences. Even though they were dissatisfied by the recent phase, they find the Census an appealing idea and do not want to close doors. They both might take advantage of the chance to work on the final phases of the 2010 Census, if given the opportunity.

It involves meeting people, using problem-solving skills and working independently – an attractive combination, in Stone’s opinion.

Wedel, too, sounded interested in the possibility. She was surprised on the afternoon that she talked to The News to receive in the mail a letter from the Census saying, in effect, that she remained on active status with the Census.

But Richardson won’t be working anymore on this Census or future counts.

“I’m done for life,” she said.

The First Sex Scandal of the 2010 Census!!!

Monday, May 4th, 2009

A reader tipped us off on this one…Sometimes, as is the case in this instance, it’s better to keep the commentary to a minimum and let the story write itself. Thanks to for reporting on this:

A Johnson County woman said a man who said he was a census worker asked her some questionable questions.

Overland Park resident Kim Mertin said that when she opened her front door on Monday to find a man claiming to be a U.S. Census worker, she answered his questions. She said he started with the expected questions — “How many people live here?” — but it didn’t take long before the talk took a surprising turn. Mertin said the man commented about her clothing, asked if she’d like a back rub. She said he even asked if she “was wearing pink undies.”

Mertin said she felt immediately uncomfortable and started to back away, but it wasn’t just the conversation that bothered her.

“On several occasions, he touched himself,” she said. Mertin went inside, locked the door and called police. She also sent the Census Bureau an e-mail, assuming the man must be an impersonator. But, it turned out the man was really employed as a Census worker.

“It was shocking,” said Sydnee Chattin-Reynolds of the Census Bureau.Chattin-Reynolds said that in her 26 years with the Census, she has never dealt with a situation like this. All employees go through vigorous background checks, and additional screenings once hired, she said. For privacy reasons, Chattin-Reynolds said that she could only say that the situation was handled.

Mertin said she felt that wasn’t enough. “I felt I should have been told right then and there that this gentlemen would no longer be out doing what he was doing,” said Mertin. Reynolds said this part of the Census sets them up for the mailings that will go out in 2010. She said this is a rare and unfortunate incident during this important process.