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 ‘New York’

Photo of the Day: Waste on the streets of New York

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

UPDATE: I have word that the New York regional office is up in arms over this photo. Please note that I received it from a college friend who does NOT work for the Census Bureau. I don’t want anyone to be falsely accused/needlessly fired over something that they didn’t do…

423 West 127 Street, New York, New York

Multiply this by the 494 local census offices around the country…and know that this happens on a daily/weekly basis.

New York Post: Census Bureau’s hiring and re-hiring and re-re-hiring inflates US job statistics

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Unemployment figures are likely higher than the government claims, simply because so many Census Bureau employees have been hired, fired, re-hired, re-fired, etc, etc etc for each Census Bureau operation. Here’s the full story from John Crudele at the NYP:

You know the old saying: “Everyone loves a charade.” Well, it seems that the Census Bureau may be playing games.

Last week, one of the millions of workers hired by Census 2010 to parade around the country counting Americans blew the whistle on some statistical tricks.

The worker, Naomi Cohn, told The Post that she was hired and fired a number of times by Census. Each time she was hired back, it seems, Census was able to report the creation of a new job to the Labor Department.

Below, I have a couple more readers who worked for Census 2010 and have tales to tell.

But first, this much we know.

Each month Census gives Labor a figure on the number of workers it has hired. That figure goes into the closely followed monthly employment report Labor provides. For the past two months the hiring by Census has made up a good portion of the new jobs.

Labor doesn’t check the Census hiring figure or whether the jobs are actually new or recycled. It considers a new job to have been created if someone is hired to work at least one hour a month.

One hour! A month! So, if a worker is terminated after only one hour and another is hired in her place, then a second new job can apparently be reported to Labor . (I’ve been unable to get Census to explain this to me.)

Here’s a note from a Census worker — this one from Manhattan:

“John: I am on my fourth rehire with the 2010 Census.

“I have been hired, trained for a week, given a few hours of work, then laid off. So my unemployed self now counts for four new jobs.

“I have been paid more to train all four times than I have been paid to actually produce results. These are my tax dollars and your tax dollars at work.

“A few months ago I was trained for three days and offered five hours of work counting the homeless. Now, I am knocking (on) doors trying to find the people that have not returned their Census forms. I worked the 2000 Census. It was a far more organized venture.

“Have to run and meet my crew leader, even though with this rain I did not work today. So I can put in a pay sheet for the hour or hour and a half this meeting will take. Sincerely, C.M.

And here’s another:

“John: I worked for (Census) and I was paid $18.75 (an hour) just like Ms. Naomi Cohn from your article.

“I worked for about six weeks or so and I picked the hours I wanted to work. I was checking the work of others. While I was classifying addresses, another junior supervisor was checking my work.

“In short, we had a “checkers checking checkers” quality control. I was eventually let go and was told all the work was finished when, in fact, other people were being trained for the same assignment(s).

“I was re-hired about eight months later and was informed that I would have to go through one week of additional training.

Census Bureau employees flown in/brought to your area from another region?

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

During address canvassing operations in Fall 2009, MyTwoCensus learned that individuals were flown from North Carolina to New York and from Georgia to Florida to assist with 2010 Census operations. In the midst of the recession, when unemployment was ridiculously high and people could be hired very easily in ANY part of the USA, the Census Bureau felt it necessary to pay the travel costs, hotel expenses, per diem, salaries, and food costs of workers who were not working where they lived. MyTwoCensus has received anonymous tips that this wasteful practice is still taking place. Please let us know in the comments section if you know where and when this has occurred. Thanks!

Language problems with the 2010 Census may lead to changes in reapportionment

Monday, May 17th, 2010

The following article from the Bellingham Herald is very well written and paints a vivid picture of the problems I have discussed about poor translation services and more:

By DANIEL C. VOCK – Stateline.org

WASHINGTON Upstate New York took in nearly 3,200 refugees during one recent year. That was nearly seven times as many as New York City did. The refugees, more than half of whom came from Myanmar, often need medical care and other social services, but the region does not have the same informational resources – such as translators and English-language classes – as New York City. To help them get those services, upstate hospital officials and other advocates want them recorded in the 2010 census and have helped spread the word to refugees.

It’s not an easy job, but it’s a potentially important one. The refugees from Myanmar who live in the county that includes Rochester, N.Y., speak six different dialects, making the task of finding a translator who understands medical terms even more difficult. When refugees do visit a doctor or the hospital in the Rochester General Medical Group, says Jim Sutton, who heads the group’s office of community medicine, their appointments last longer because of the language barrier and complications related to the fact that refugees often went years without any health care.

An accurate population count could highlight that need to government officials, Sutton says. “Politicians want to represent their constituencies. We have 8,000 refugees in our area. … If a representative saw that much of their population was voting members of their particular area, their ears may perk up a little bit when something comes before them regarding language.”

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This is the kind of small but ultimately significant problem state and local officials are wrestling with all over the country.

Minnesota state demographer Tom Gillaspy knows how important the census count is for his state. He’s done the math himself. The once-a-decade tally is used for many things, but one of the most important is deciding how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House. According to Gillaspy’s latest projections, Minnesota could lose a seat by fewer than 1,000 people.

“It doesn’t get much closer than that,” muses Gillaspy, now involved in his fourth census for Minnesota. Miss just two college dorms – say, by counting them in June instead of April – and there goes the state’s eighth congressional seat.

“It is a huge operation to do a census. It is just an enormous, enormous thing. I don’t think people appreciate the precision which is required,” Gillaspy says. “It’s really at the core of everything that’s done in government and, to a large extent, in the private sector for an entire decade. So it better get done right.”

To the surprise of many, quite a few things are going pretty well this time. Across the country, 72 percent of residents have mailed in their census forms already. That’s roughly the same percentage that turned in their forms in 2000, which ended a three-decade slide in participation. That’s a good sign, according to experts, because the mail-in participation rate is a good indicator of how accurate the final count will be.

Experts credit several changes over the past decade for making it easier to educate residents about the census.

Perhaps most striking is the publicity blitz that promoted the mail-in portion of the census and continues now that 635,000 workers are going door-to-door to check with people who didn’t return their forms. The first big splash in the campaign was a much-maligned Super Bowl ad, but it was only the beginning. By the time the campaign is over, the U.S. Census Bureau plans to spend a record $133 million on advertising in 28 languages.

Behind the scenes, the federal government placed a greater emphasis on partnering with local organizations to get the message out. State and local governments have used a similar approach. Stacey Cumberbach, the head of New York City’s 2010 census office, says working with trusted leaders in different communities and across city government has helped the city boost its mail-in rates from 57 percent a decade ago to 60 percent this year.

Working with the city’s agency for public and subsidized housing helped get the message to one out of 12 New Yorkers, she says. Immigrants make up more than one-third of the city’s population, but that population in itself is very diverse. That’s why, Cumberbach says, it was so important for the city to rely on community leaders to promote the census.

In Minnesota, Gillaspy took advantage of a few other opportunities offered for the first time by the Census Bureau. In February, the state compared the numbers of addresses it had on its list for every block against the census’ count. Where there were big differences, the state asked the Census Bureau to double check its list of addresses.

Later this summer, Minnesota officials plan to compare state data for the capacity of group quarters – including prisons, nursing homes, halfway homes and dormitories – against the population count the census came up with in those facilities. If there’s a large difference, the Census Bureau will go back to recount the population there.

“It’s up to each individual state to volunteer to do this,” Gillaspy says. “I’m not aware that all states are doing this, but we certainly are.”

Gillaspy says Minnesota’s efforts during this cycle are more involved than they were a decade ago and far exceed the state outreach during the 1980 and 1990 headcounts. The Legislature approved funding for a three-year effort, and it can pay for itself by successfully counting even a relatively small number of people, he says.

Still, Kim Brace, the head of the consulting firm Election Data Services, is worried that some states have cut back on their outreach efforts to save money during this recession. He predicts, for example, that California will suffer because it couldn’t afford to better promote the census.

On the other hand, Brace says, technology has improved the amount of interim census data available to the public during the count.

“Ten years ago, we were lucky to have just to have an overall county-level count of the response rate at this time,” he says. “Now we’ve got it at the (census) tract level. That’s phenomenal.” Practically speaking, Brace says, that lets elected officials or community leaders check with the Census Bureau’s online maps to determine which areas are falling behind and respond immediately.

People who didn’t turn in their forms are less likely to answer the door when a Census worker comes knocking, explains New York City’s Cumberbach. And even if they do talk, she says, they may not provide accurate information.

In New York City, six people may share a one-bedroom apartment. Or a family of immigrants may include some people who are in the country legally and some who are not. “It’s almost like everyone has something in their home that they don’t want to share or that they’re nervous about,” Cumberbach says.

Neighborhoods with the lowest mail-in participation rates tend to have more blacks and more Hispanics than areas that turned in a bigger share of their forms, according to an analysis by the City University of New York. The 5 percent of neighborhoods with the lowest response rates were, on average, 54-percent minority. The rest of the country as a whole is 30-percent minority.

When it comes to states, many of those most in jeopardy of losing U.S. House seats – a number of them clustered around the Great Lakes – had some of the best response rates in the country. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia topped the charts.

This is especially important because the housing crisis has slowed the population growth of many Sun Belt states, and because many of those states also have below-average census response rates. Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Georgia all were expected to gain seats, but each had 70 percent or lower mail-in participation rates.

An inaccurate headcount can cost communities more than just political clout. A study by a census oversight board following the 2000 count said the country’s 58 largest counties would lose out on a combined $3.6 billion over the decade in funds distributed by population formula, more than $2,900 per person.

“Every person missed,” says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, “is that much less federal resources for everything from schools and medical services to resources to pave the streets.”

Census Bureau Official: The Worst Local Census Office In the Nation

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The following piece comes from an anonymous Census Bureau official in New York whose identity has been verified but will remain protected by MyTwoCensus.com. This work below does not necessarily represent the views of Stephen Robert Morse or MyTwoCensus.com:

From the outside our LCO looks great. It sits in a high end commercial office building with beautiful views of Park Avenue and the Grand Central Terminal. But on the inside the office is the prime example of the appalling waste, lack of accountability, sabotage and finger pointing that has become widespread here at the 2010 Census.

Our LCO contains the upscale doorman buildings of the East Side, the multi-million dollar condos in Union Square and the Lower East Side, Fifth Avenue retail stores such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Bergdorf Goodman and famous restaurants such as Tavern on the Green and Smith & Wollensky. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment is upwards of three thousand dollars a month. For months, numerous employees warned everyone the demography of the residents and the high real estate prices was going to be a problem finding applicants for $18.75 an hour and free training space. The recruiting and partnership assistants had trouble finding partners that would donate space that we could use five days a week for eight hours a day. The LCOM made clerks cold call high end banquet halls, and conference rooms in private office buildings but most of them refused because in such a recession these businesses could be generating revenue instead of donating their space. Some spaces though were nice enough to say that if we would be willing to offset some of their custodial, security costs or even the cost for toilet paper they would offer us the space. But the Census Bureau was adamant about not paying a single cent for space.

The other problem was recruiting enough applicants. The office clerk rate of $14.25 and field employee rate of $18.75 an hour was chump change for what is considered one of the highest real estate prices in the country. Most of the people who take a job for these pay rates are students, public housing or subsidized housing residents or retirees. For this very reason we were ranked last in the nation when it came to recruiting enough applicants to do the census.

To no one’s surprise since recruiting numbers were not being met the career census employees at regional census center (RCC) and headquarters pointed fingers, blamed the local census office managers and bring in outsiders. They brought in regional technicians and other recruiting assistants from Queens to show us how to plaster and flier neighborhoods with posters. Nevertheless they didn’t even make a dent in the recruiting numbers. Looking for someone to blame the RCC fired the recruiting manager and asked another one to take over. When the second one refused to work with the LCOM, the solution was fire her too. Then they offered it to a Westchester manager who declined also. (smart move) And the regional technician from Queens spent a week there before he was fed up. Are you starting to notice a trend? You know there is a problem when people would rather be fired than work with the LCOM.

The employees refused to work with the LCOM because she was condescending, oftentimes publicly humiliating and sabotaging other managers from getting their job done. Most of all, the LCOM had it out for the AMQA. She [LCOM] diverted a strong OOS from quality assurance to recruiting and told recruiting assistants to refrain from finding training sites and questionnaire assistance centers (QACs). When the area manager sent partnership assistants to help look for additional QAC sites the LCOM diverted them also. Then they sent a regional technician to help her. He mapped the geographic location of all the QAC sites and figured out the hours they would be most effective. Then he coordinated some recruiting assistants to help telling them exactly where he needed QACs and what hours he needed them. She threw away the work and tried to get the regional technician fired.

At the climax, when the LCOM resigned her going away party featured a clerk who impersonated her in a wig and stormed the lobby like a drama scene from a reality television show. After the LCOM left, an RCC employee became the acting LCOM. Like other RCC employees he offered little constructive help but sitting at his computer falling asleep or basically hovering, standing over, watching as temporary hourly employees slave away at processing work on an antiquated system that does not work.

When it came time to hire enumerators for non response follow-up our office still didn’t have enough training spaces but told to select applicants anyways. Despite being the worst LCO in the country the office managed to select almost 2,000 applicants, hiring a negligible number of non-citizens and those who scored below 70 from an applicant pool of about 5,000. (the original applicant testing goal was over 12,000 applicants) Instead of finally compromising and paying for much needed space RCC asked the LCO managers to create a schedule to take advantage of every single seat in a classroom, moving and splitting crews of enumerators from one training site to another each day. A great idea from the outlook; but when you try to implement this it can be a logistical nightmare. We promised jobs to thousands of applicants but couldn’t fit them into training space so all this week we fielded phone calls from thousands of irate applicants who were desperate for work or enumerators who don’t even know where and when their next day of training is. While the office is fielding phone calls headquarters is making sure we key enough hires in the system. The office resorted to training their employees in the hallway of a high end commercial Park Avenue South office. The managers have to work from morning to midnight, sometimes through the night and everyday there are employees who basically break down and burst into tears in the office. The Census Bureau could of saved themselves money simply by pay their partners a stipend to offset custodial or security fees or even the toilet paper than pay the wages and overtime for the entire office which is probably in the tens of thousands.

Another example of government waste at its finest is how they bring in huge cubic dump containers to throw out entire storerooms of materials for the group quarters enumeration, recruiting brochures, and questionnaires. I ask myself if it was worth firing our AMQA over lack of Questionnaire Assistance Center sites when entire cubic containers of be counted census forms were just thrown out? In a few weeks during the non-response follow up operation we have to enumerate all the housing units in entire high rise apartment buildings in Manhattan because no one received census forms. This is simply because headquarters and RCC rushed and told people to work faster last year. If New York City is missing entire high rise apartment buildings imagine how many single family homes are missing across America. The joke of the office is if things don’t work headquarters will fly in people who will come in take over and magically “finish the job”. This is simply why places like New York City get undercounted.

So when the newspaper reporters are standing outside our office demanding interviews about why the office won’t respond to applicants request about job training. Why don’t they ask the RCC and headquarters? From the first look you can blame the temporary local census office but the real blame falls onto the RCC and headquarters who evaluate purely on numbers with little regard to the demography and real estate costs of one of the most expensive neighborhoods in America. The New York East 2230 office is the prime example of career level census managers who have tunnel vision. These people are former statisticians, mathematicians and geographers who are great at quantitative analysis but have little management experience and strategy.

If this LCO works just like any other office in terms of the waste it shows what must be happening in 494 offices across the nation every day. The Census Bureau MO “when things don’t work throw more money, resources and people at it.” This is why the census costs 15 billion dollars. The Census needs someone with real management experience and who is a real visionary. The employees at regional census center and headquarters should be ashamed of themselves. And to think the inspector general’s office was here just weeks ago makes it even more appalling. You can be sure I’ll be writing the congressional subcommittee about this.

Photo of the Day: 2010 Census jobs still available

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I took this screen capture last week…

Belated Earth Day Special: The Census Bureau Waste Continues (with hard evidence attached)

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Last week, I planned to publish this piece, but the data from a New York area census office didn’t come in until yesterday…Check it out:

Here’s the hard evidence:

10-02 DISPOSITION OF 2010 GQAV MATERIALS (1)

10-10 DISPOSITION OF 2010 QAC MATERIALS

It seems like the Census didn’t know April 22nd was Earth Day. In honor of it the printers ran non stop from morning to midnight in 494 offices across the nation printing out all the address listing pages and assignment preparation for Non Response Followup.

Cost to print NRFU Address Listing Pages of every housing unit in the United States single sided and then ship it to the National Processing Center Fed Ex Priority Overnight

Cost to print out hundreds upon thousands of maps single sided only to not even be looked at

Cost to print all the training materials on high quality printer quality paper

Cost to print all the glossy recruiting brochures, partnership posters only for them to be unopened and thrown out by the palette like this everyday (see pictures below)

–  Some food for thought. These boxes are filled with 500 brochures a piece and has been happening everyday for months and in all 494 offices everyday –

Cost to print all the Be Counted Questionnaires which were all taken back from the Be Counted and Questionnaire Assistance Centers to be thrown away even though New York City wanted to extend the program by 30 days and some to count the estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants.(see attached disposal list)

Cost to print all the GQV Questionnaires which we still have two palettes left. (see attached disposal list) And that is just one of the forms on the attached list to throw out…Here we go:

10-02 DISPOSITION OF 2010 GQAV MATERIALS (1)

10-10 DISPOSITION OF 2010 QAC MATERIALS

Photos of materials on their way to be destroyed/recycled:



Three Reasons Why New York City May Be Undercounted…

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The following tidbit comes to us from Kelly Virella of CityLimits.org:

Off-the-Books Housing
Nearly 40 percent of the new housing created in NYC from 1990 to 2005 years is illegal, much of it in residential basements and attics. The Census Bureau found a lot of those residents—if not most of them—and sent them the forms, but many families probably never received them. “There are many households where the landlord sorts the mail,” says Stacey Cumberbatch, the city’s 2010 Census coordinator. “If I get a form for my illegal tenants, I may not give it to them, wondering how anyone knows they live in the basement.”

Off-the-Books Tenants
Some of New York’s public housing residents and voucher holders don’t want the New York City Housing Authority to know that a cousin, friend or partner lives with them, because telling the truth would jeopardize their leases or vouchers. They fear—despite NYCHA assurances to the contrary—that reporting their household headcount will create a paper trail leading to their eviction. “We need to get the message out that it’s safe to participate in this activity,” says Tony Farthing, director of the Census Bureau’s New York Regional Office. “No one will take your apartment away from you.”

Off-the-Books Work
An estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants live in New York City, and fear—despite the Census Bureau’s denials—their participation in the census will lead to their deportation.

On the Closing of the Be Counted and Questionnaire Assistance Centers . . . and Beyond

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The following press release represents the opinions of the Latino Census Network, not MyTwoCensus.com:
by the Latino Census Network (April 21, 2010)

The Latino Census Network has received a number of inquiries about the closing of the Census Bureau’s Be Counted and Questionnaire Assistance Centers. Members of the New York City Council have written to the Census Directors asking that these centers be kept open for an additional 30 days. Other have expressed surprise that these centers have closed.

The Census Bureau informs us that these centers had been scheduled to close on April 19th from the start. Because these were established through contracts with community-based organizations and other institutions through contracts, it would be difficult to extend these agreements at this point.

The Census Bureau’s focus now is on their Non-Response Follow-up (NRFU). Door-to-door census taking occurs starting May 1nd through June and early July 2010. Local census takers will visit households that did not mail back a census form. All census takers carry an official badge and a shoulder bag – both with the Department of Commerce seal – and a binder. During a visit, census takers will show ID and hand respondents an information sheet explaining that their answers are confidential. The census taker will complete the questionnaire, which should take about 10 minutes. If no one is home, a “notice of visit” will be left at the door inviting the resident to call the census taker to complete the form over the phone.

With the mail-in participation so close now to the 2000 Census rates at the national level, the Census Bureau no doubt sees this mail-in part of the process a success. It is expected that in the next week or so, additional Census forms will come in, making it possible that the 2000 participation rate will be matched. Given all of the factors that make this 2010 Census more challenging than the last (9/11, greater anti-immigrant sentiment, etc.), this level of mail-in participation is considered a success, at least at the national level.

Title 13, U.S. Code, requires that the apportionment population counts for each state be delivered to the President within nine months of the census date, by December 31. 2010. According to Title 2, U.S. Code, within one week of the opening of the next session of the Congress, the President must report to the Clerk of the House of Representatives the apportionment population counts for each state and the number of Representatives to which each state is entitled. Also according to Title 2, U.S. Code, within 15 days, the Clerk of the House must inform each state governor of the number of representatives to which each state is entitled.

The legislatures in each state are responsible for geographically defining the boundaries of their congressional and other election districts–a process known as redistricting–and more detailed census results are used for these purposes. Public Law 94-171, enacted by Congress in December 1975, requires the Census Bureau to provide state legislatures with the small area census population tabulations necessary for legislative redistricting. The Census Bureau must transmit the total population tabulations to the states by April 1, 2011.

In Focus: How your $timulus package money is being $pent by the Cen$u$ Bureau

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

H/t to Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporting outlet Pro Publica for sharing the following data with us. Here are some screen captures that depict how your taxpayer dollars are being spent (…interestingly, Census Bureau Communications Director Steve Jost’s former boss Carolyn Maloney represents New York City and the areas where $125,000,000 in stimulus money is headed in communications contracts!). The amount of money being spent on partnership support is particularly disturbing as I have received multiple reports of partnership materials being DISCARDED by the palette!

New York City Council Wants 2010 Census Extension

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Will this be another effort of New York City Mayor Michael “Third Term” Bloomberg trying to avoid regulations and change them to meet his favor?

From Blackstarnews.com:

On Monday, April 19 at 10 AM in Council Chambers, the Committees on Community Development, Governmental Operations and Civil Rights will hold a joint hearing on NYC’s Census 2010 efforts and a resolution sponsored by Council Members Vann and Brewer. The resolution calls upon the U.S. Census Bureau to extend and/or reopen its April 15 deadline for accepting “mail-in” census forms and to keep both its Questionnaire Assistance Centers and Be Counted Sites open for an additional 30 days.

In New York City, only 56 percent of households have returned their census form to date. New York City has a uniquely hard-to-count population because of its large immigrant population, diversity in housing and areas of concentrated poverty. Brooklyn is performing the worst of the city’s boroughs with a response rate of only 51 percent.

There have been several reports of households receiving multiple census forms, receiving the form late or receiving no form at all.

Hipsters respond: Don’t blame us for low response rates…blame the Hassidic Jews!

Friday, April 16th, 2010

In response to my postings about hipsters failing to complete their census forms in Brooklyn, a hipster blog has refuted these claims and has instead shifted the blame for low response rates to the neighboring Hasidic Jewish community — yet also notes that the 2010 Census forms were mailed out during the week-long Passover holiday:

Stop Blaming Hipsters for the Census

Census copy.jpg

Hey NPR, next time you run a piece entitled “New York’s Hipsters Too Cool for the Census,” you should maybe do more than talk to three people in a record store?

Sure, as Brian pointed out last week, Williamsburg’s response rates are super low. But check out the actual data available on the Census 2010 Map. The Census return rates for the “hip” parts of Williamsburg are about on par with those for the rest of the city. It’s the Hassidic areas that have a super low rate of return (see screenshot above). Which the NPR story mentioned, kind of, at the end of the piece, after focusing on those crazy kids with their “wacky bikes” and “ironic mustaches.”

So yeah, some of us are lazy assholes who haven’t mailed their forms in yet (like, ok, I *might* have just mailed mine in this morning). But come on – we’re no more lazy than the rest of this city.

UPDATE: Aaron Short, over at A Short Story blog, points out that one reason the Hassidic return rate might be so low is because the forms were mailed out during… Passover.

So what we’re saying is that it’s nobody’s fault, really.

Does this lawsuit against the Census Bureau have legitimacy? Perhaps

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

H/t to former MyTwoCensus editor Emily Babay for informing me of the following lawsuit filed against the Census Bureau for its hiring practices. The Philadelphia Inquirer brings us the following:

Phila. woman at center of census lawsuit

By Jane M. Von Bergen

Paying $17.75 an hour, U.S. Census jobs, though temporary, are attractive in an economy where unemployment is stuck at 9.7 percent. But the Census Bureau’s screening policies, designed to safeguard the public, end up discriminating against minorities, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

That’s because the bureau has set up an “arbitrary barrier to employment” for any person with an arrest record, “no matter how trivial or disconnected from the requirements of the job,” the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan, says. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is named as the defendant.

The national suit, filed by Outten & Golden L.L.P. in New York and a coalition of public-interest organizations, seeks class-action status on behalf of those turned down for a job if they were arrested and not convicted, or convicted for an offense irrelevant to the job.

“The U.S. Census Bureau’s top priority is the safety of both our workforce and the American public,” Commerce Department spokesman Nicholas Kimball responded. “Americans must be confident that, if . . . a census taker must come to their door to count them, we’ve taken steps to ensure their safety.”

Kimball declined to comment on the suit.

One of the two lead plaintiffs, Evelyn Houser, 69, of North Philadelphia, thinks she is qualified to fill one of the 1.2 million census positions. That’s because Houser worked for the census before, in 1990.

“What’s the difference between then and now?” she asked in an interview Tuesday. “It’s like a slap in the face.”

The difference, said her lawyer, Sharon Dietrich with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, is the government’s cumbersome screening process.

Computers kick back any application with an arrest record, requiring more documentation, but the Census Bureau doesn’t make it clear what documentation is required, Dietrich said.

The discrimination occurs because the arrest and conviction rates of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans exceed those of whites, the suit says. Compounding the problem, it says, is that one in three arrests do not lead to prosecution or conviction, yet the bureau’s system does not readily distinguish between arrests and convictions.

“The processes are screening out any kind of criminal case, no matter what,” Dietrich said.

“If you were arrested years ago for a minor offense, you are asked to comply with the same burdensome process as if you had been released from jail last week after committing a murder,” she said,

Plaintiffs’ attorney Samuel Miller, of Outten & Golden, estimates that as many as one million applicants may have been caught up in the process, with tens of thousands unfairly deterred or excluded from employment.

In 1981, Houser was a 39-year-old mother raising four children on welfare and food stamps. Her monthly check was several days away, but she was out of food when, going outside to take out the trash, she found a check next to the Dumpster.

“I went home and told my kids, ‘God sent me a piece of paper that says we’re going to eat tonight.’ ”

Houser shouldn’t have done it, but she tried to cash the check. She was arrested. Instead of being convicted, she was placed in alternative rehabilitation program. Her record remains clean, Dietrich said.

In 1990, Houser got a job with the census. Last year, she decided to apply again and passed a qualifying test.

A month or so later, the Census Bureau sent her a letter, asking her for documentation. The way she read it, her fingerprints would suffice, so she had them taken and sent them in the next day.

The bureau rejected her because, it said, she hadn’t sent the right documentation. Dietrich called the bureau’s communications confusing.

Since then, Houser has been involved in a long appeals process, which culminated in the filing of the suit.

Houser, who lives in subsidized housing, estimated that 25 percent of her working-age neighbors are unemployed. They are “just existing,” she said. “It’s just survival.”

She’s helping her neighbors find a path to employment, Houser said. “I’m a little gray-haired old lady and I’m trying to lead them in a better way.”

Too cool for the census

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I’ve already posted about NPR’s survey of hipsters who don’t complete their 2010 Census forms in Brooklyn, but this piece from the Alaska Dispatch (a citizen journalism site)  is too good not to republish here:

By Maia Nolan

Much has been made lately of Alaska’s lackluster rate of participation in the 2010 census. But it turns out there’s at least one demographic that’s significantly worse than Alaskans: Hipsters.

In the capital city of hipsterdom, the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., census participation is right around 30 percent — more than 20 percent below Alaska’s current statewide rate — according to a recent NPR report. The reason? Um, like, whatever.

“I guess it’s laziness and like, what’s the point?” a 20-something record store employee, Nate Stark, told NPR’s Scott Simon. “When it comes down to it, nobody wants to fill out like another form that’s just like getting sent to your house that really relatively has nothing to do with your life.”

Another Williamsburger, Jamie Lilly, told Simon:


“You know, on a personal note, maybe some people, they figure what’s the point to be counted if you don’t count for much anyway? If we don’t count, why be counted?”

Way deep.

Meanwhile, my fellow Alaskans, I think we’re missing an important opportunity to polish up our image. Outsiders might look at our bottom-of-the-barrel census participation rate and chalk it up to our being backwoods rednecks who can’t dig out of our mountainside snowdrifts in time to brave polar bear attacks and coastal erosion as we hike to the post office to get our census forms in the mail, or to our resentment of gummint intrusion into our gun-toting, aerial-wolf-hunting, pot-decriminalizing libertarian lifestyles. All of which just contributes to the perpetuation of the image of Alaska as a frozen wilderness outpost where people talk with Minnesota accents and only pick up a newspaper to swat away Russian spy planes rearing their heads into our airspace.

It’s time to take a clue from our retro-glasses-and-ironic-T-shirt-wearing brethren in the ‘burg. Clearly the hipsters are on to something here: We just need to come up with a really existential-sounding reason for the state’s low return rate. Like, what’s the point? We’re not too remote to participate in the census; we’re just too cool.

And if you think it’s ridiculous to imply that Alaskans have anything to learn from hipsters, keep in mind that hipsters have been taking style clues from Alaskans for years. We’ve always known that plaid shirts, bedhead and dive bars are cool; it just took them a while to catch on.

Hipsters blamed for low census return rates in New York

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

H/t to the New York Times and NPR for the following:

It appears that some residents of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, may be “too cool” to fill out the 2010 census. As the National Public Radio correspondent Robert Smith narrates from the enclave of hipsters — or, as some prefer, fauxhemians ortrustafarians — that boasts the city’s lowest return rate for census forms:

SMITH: The Census Bureau is spending $133 million on advertising in dozens of languages telling people that the census is their civic duty, that it helps get federal funding in their communities, but the message isn’t sinking in here in Williamsburg.

Just outside the record store, I meet Jamie Lilly. She knows the ads. She got the form but she thinks that returning it is just supporting a government that she doesn’t believe in.

Ms. JAMIE LILLY: You know, on a personal note, maybe some people, they figure what’s the point to be counted if you don’t count for much anyway? If we don’t count, why be counted?

Counting — or rather, parsing the data from others’ counts — has made Nate Silver a household name in political circles. In this week’s New York Magazine, Mr. Silver, the statistical wunderkind behind the political blogFiveThirtyEight, turns his eye toward the “livability” of New York neighborhoods, the results of which are now available in “Top 50″ form.

Front of the pack: 1) Park Slope, 2) Lower East Side, 3) Sunnyside, Queens, 4) Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill, 5) Greenpoint.

Pulling up the rear: 48) Bedford Park, the Bronx, 49) Parkchester, the Bronx, 50) Harlem.

Event in New York tonight…

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

The Baruch College School of Public Affairs

Panelists
Seema Agnani, Executive Director, Chhaya CDC
Stacey Cumberbatch, City Census Coordinator
Tony Farthing, Regional Director, US Census Bureau
Joseph Salvo, Director Population Division, NY Dept. of City Planning

Moderator
Sam Roberts, Reporter, The New York Times

Co-sponsor
Mexican-American Students Alliance

Date & Time
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Reception 5:30
Program 6:00 to 7:30

Location
Baruch College
Newman Conference Center
Library Building, 151 East 25th Street
7th floor

Please RSVP online by clicking here

Giant 2010 Census forms popping up in cities across America!

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Giant 2010 Census form in Times Square. Photo courtesy of Robert Brooks Cohen

Census Bureau Official says Senator Schumer Was Misled: The Truth About Census Jobs

Monday, February 22nd, 2010
MyTwoCensus has received a contribution from a Census Bureau official (verified to make sure this person is for real but with her full anonymity protected) that will serve as a response to our recent story from Indiana:
Several weeks ago, I was in a test session where an applicant told me that he heard about the census from an announcement by Senator Chuck Schumer on the nightly news.  The Senator said the work would pay pretty well and go anywhere from ten weeks to six to eight months. The applicant was nonetheless shocked when I handed him this piece of paper which said that the test he took was for work lasting only one to three weeks…(SEE ABOVE DOCUMENT)

As there is much confusion, I thought I’d write this letter to clarify some misconceptions. The first myth is the census will begin hiring in early 2010 which has some truth to it. There will be several smaller operations and a small number of office positions but the number of jobs is neglible (less than 5%).
The majority of jobs will be in May 2010 for the Non-Response Followup operation where enumerators will knock on people’s doors and ask them to fill out a questionnaire. The second myth is that the jobs last anywhere from ten weeks to six to eight months. According to this sheet of paper, it will last up to three weeks.   In fact the embarrassing part is no one really knows how long the job will last.
However from November 2009 to April 2010 the Census Bureau is on a mission to recruit tens of thousands of people based upon a model they will need five applicants for every one position:
* because one person will decline the position (doubt it, the unemployment rate is in double digits)
* one won’t show up to training (doubt that will happen for god’s sake the unemployment has been the worst in any census in a half a century)
* one won’t complete training or pass the test (they assume the applicant pool is inherently dumb which isn’t true because of the high caliber of applicants in the recession)
* and one will quit the first week (ok that might happen if you don’t like getting the door slammed in your face)
Based on my experience I can tell you we have had very high test scores, few job refusals and high retention of staff. If this continues it will result in many people not getting hired. The Census Bureau is wasting money recruiting all these people for a small number of jobs. It needs to rethink this ridiculous model because as we all know they already made the startling admission that their cost estimation models are completely inadequate  (just look at address canvassing and group quarters validation).
Most areas are already meeting their recruiting goals but we have trouble recruiting in more affluent neighborhoods of New York. In typical census fashion when goals aren’t being met they throw bodies at it and hope it improves. They hire recruiting assistants (RAs) based off a test score and ask yes/no questions during the interview. You answer yes to all the questions you get the job. Every week they hire more recruiting and partnership assistants. There is no organization, they just ask you to take a whole bunch of brochures and cards and give them out in the hopes you will get people to take the test.
Everyone has the same ideas: visit church groups, public housing, non-profit organizations so there is duplication of work. When the recruiting goals aren’t being met RCC intimidates and offers little constructive help. There are regional technicians who just go around and tell us we’re not recruiting enough people…(especially this short Asian guy with a Napoleon complex and some guy who snoozes during meetings). They don’t seem to understand that no one wants to take a test for the possibility of a job a few months from now, lasting only one-three weeks for $18.75 an hour which barely pays the exorbitant rents of $3,500 a month. More test sessions are scheduled and more clerks are hired but the phones don’t ring anymore than they did last week. Judging by the way they do recruiting you think this is the first time they are doing this. But they’ve been doing this since the first census in 1790. (okay maybe they didn’t have to recruit workers on horseback but it seems like an amateur operation).

The Census Bureau needs some innovation here:

* track recruiting efforts by putting a unique code (corresponding to each RA) on each brochure so there is an incentive everything they hand out results in someone applying
* commission or compensation linked to performance
* targeted media ads in local newspapers (which I have yet to see)
* get the Census road tour vehicle out there or have recruiting assistants tranform their cars into promotional vehicles
* reaching out to business improvement districts and unemployment agencies to advertise their jobs

Track recruiting efforts by putting a unique code (corresponding to each RA) on each brochure so there is an incentive everything they hand out results in someone applying…And while they are at it someone should reevaluate this model which I know is wrong. They need to stop throwing needless money away to recruit people who won’t even get called. The model is get as many bodies to take the test, offer a small percentage of them jobs and tell them it will last eight weeks. Then headquarters realizes there isn’t any work, other areas are working faster and they are running out of money.
In order to save themselves embarrassment they will rush the operation because the quicker they finish the better they look and the less money they have to spend. Get the hopes up of thousands of unemployed Americans who need work to put food on the table. Rinse and repeat.
So if anyone is listening to me. We don’t need more people, we just need better workers, better leadership and a more realistic recruiting model. Perhaps this recruiting speech might be more fit:
Hi I’m a recruiting assistant with the United States Census Bureau. We’re offering jobs in your community, as an RA I can’t tell you how long the jobs will last. The jobs may last eight weeks, but will probably be more like one to three weeks. I actually don’t know because our leaders at Census Bureau headquarters don’t know either. I do know you will need to take a basic skills test in reading comprehension, math skills and reasoning. However if you don’t get a perfect score and you’re not a veteran you may not get hired. On a lasting note you will make good money for a few weeks, then headquarters will realize they overestimated the workload, over staffed the operation and are running out of money. To make themselves look good they will probably tell you to work faster, do a haphazard job or risk being terminated. Are you still interested in a job?

N.Y. lawmakers criticize inmate census rule

Friday, January 29th, 2010

In New York, two state lawmakers (with Rev. Al Sharpton) are criticizing the Census Bureau policy of counting inmates in the district where they are incarcerated, rather than their home communities.

From the Albany Times-Union:

The longtime U.S. Census Bureau guideline was denounced as “prison-based gerrymandering” by Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, D-Brooklyn, who were joined by Sharpton and more than two dozen advocacy groups at a news conference at New York City Hall.

“This is an injustice all across America,” Schneiderman said. “We pass hundreds and hundreds of bills every year about highways and forestry and insurance and sewers. This bill is different. This bill is about justice.”

The Times-Union also delves into the pros and cons of the current policy, which a regional manager tells the paper is unlikely to change this year:

Alice Green, executive director for the Center of Law and Justice in Albany, has opposed the Census policy for more than two decades. “Prisoners are not allowed to vote, but yet we count them and then exploit them,” she said.

Because of the location of most state prisons, Census Bureau policy tends to benefit the upstate population count.

New York’s rural 45th Senate District, which includes Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Warren and Washington counties, houses over 13,500 inmates incarcerated in 13 prisons.

Queensbury Republican Sen. Elizabeth Little, who has represented the district since 2002, supports the current Census Bureau guidelines.

“How do we know these people are going to go back to their hometowns once — or if — they are released?,” Little said. “Are they serving life sentences? Do they still have family in their hometowns?”

New York awards grants for Census outreach

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Happy new year, everyone. It’s now Census year! We’ve valued all of your comments, e-mails and suggestions in 2009. Keep them coming in 2010.

To start off the new year, we have a funding announcement — and some disappointed groups — up in New York. The state is distributing $2 million in grants to community groups and local governments for census outreach, but the allocations are already under fire from at least one who group that applied for, but did not receive, funds.

According to a release from Gov. David Paterson’s office, grants were awarded in two categories. Funds for outreach and mobilization will help recipients distribute information, train community members to encourage census participation and help hard-to-count groups fill out the census form. Grants for media campaigns will fund census promotion in print, broadcast and online media.

Here’s a full list of groups and local governments that received funding:

Outreach and mobilization grants

  • Asian American Federation
  • CAMBA, Inc.
  • Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce
  • Centro Cultural Hispano de Oyster Bay, East Norwich
  • Chinese-American Planning Council
  • Citizens Advice Bureau, Inc.
  • City of Albany, Vital Statistics
  • City of Buffalo
  • City of New Rochelle
  • City of Syracuse, Department of Community Development
  • City of Rochester
  • City of White Plains
  • City of Yonkers
  • Council of Peoples Organization
  • County of St. Lawrence
  • Emerald Isle Immigration Center
  • Hagedorn Foundation
  • Hispanic Federation
  • Make the Road New York
  • Medgar Evers College (CUNY) Center for Law and Social Justice
  • The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty
  • NYS Association of Regional Councils
  • Sesame Flyers International, Inc.

Media Campaign Grants

  • Asian American Federation
  • Asian Americans for Equality
  • City of Buffalo
  • City of Rochester
  • Hagedorn Foundation
  • Hispanic Federation
  • New York Immigration Coalition
  • Voto Latin

But one group not on those lists was quick to issue a statement criticizing the allocations yesterday. CaribID2010, which is advocating for the Census Bureau to add a Caribbean-American or West Indian category to census forms, says it deserved a grant due to its record of partnerships with media, churches and other groups to educate Caribbean Americans about the census.

CaribID2010 also criticized the state for not awarding a media grant to a Caribbean-focused group. Felicia Persaud, the group’s founder, called the decision “an insult and an outrage” in the statement.

Readers, where else have state grants been awarded? And what has the reaction been?