Confessions of a former U.S. Census taker

First-day-on-the-job pic taken by Paula Stafford as I hit the streets

My friend Ed told me that I should write about my experience as a Census Enumerator, even though I quit the job after just two weeks in the field. This is my story.

In the beginning, I signed up to be a Census taker after seeing an ad posted in late January about the need for workers. The actual Census date was April 1, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused everything to be delayed until mid-summer.

The Census is an important component of our federal system because accurate population assessment helps determine federal dollars that are returned to the community, as well as the number of Congressional representatives a state is awarded.

I was part of a small group that trained together for the position in Arcadia in early July, and we hit the streets on Thursday, July 16.

With my official Census Bureau brief case and new clothes purchased for the occasion, I felt like a kid heading off for the first day of school.

In fact, my wife took first day photos before I climbed into the car.

I’m not positive, but it may have been one of the hottest weeks of the century. I’m 67 years old and haven’t been to the gym lately, so the heat took a pretty big toll on my enthusiasm that first week.

But it wasn’t the heat, it was the unwelcoming reception from people that spoiled the job for me.   Too busy. Too angry at the government. Too suspicious of a stranger knocking on their door. 

Although my territory included my Northwest OKC neighborhood and surrounding territory, knocking on doors of people who wanted nothing to do with me or the Census was incredibly discouraging.

Of course, showing up unannounced on someone’s porch while wearing a mask because of the pandemic did not create the most congenial of environments.

I would knock on 30 to 40 doors in an afternoon and be “welcomed” by maybe three people who actually cooperated in the process with enthusiasm.

Sometimes, as soon as the resident opened the front door after I knocked, they would see me and my clipboard and close the door before I could say “I’m from the Census Bureau.”

I blame the incredible number of roofing contractor reps circulating in the area over the past year for ruining it for the rest of us.

Other residents told me they wanted nothing to do with the Census or objected to the mostly demographic-type questions. One guy quit in a huff mid-interview because I asked for names and birth dates of everyone in his household.

A common theme I heard was “we already filled out the Census, so why are you here?”  

Anyway, after the first week my wife asked me to quit, because she was concerned over the effects of working in the heat and the dangers that COVID presented someone my age.

I told her I was committed for eight weeks.

But midway through the second week, I decided that this would be my last.

The thought of knocking on a stranger’s door and being greeted with either suspicion or anger was not what I signed up for. Or maybe it was.

In fact, on my last day a woman told me she did not want to participate and to get off her porch. As she was shutting the door, I told her that I was required to leave a formal notice of visit on her door.

Before I could fill out the information sheet a man came out and told me not to leave anything on their property. I thanked him and quickly walked to my car.

So, the next day I called Paul, my incredibly kind and understanding supervisor, and told him I was hanging it up. He accepted my decision without shaming me.

One of my neighbors, Rebekah, also is a Census Enumerator and still knocking on doors as I write this.

I am in awe of her tenacity for withstanding both the summer heat and the withering resentment and suspicion from her fellow Americans who refuse to stand up and be counted.

Well done, Rebekah and to all of your fellow Census workers still on the job.

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I'm an Oklahoma City-based freelance writer with interests in Oklahoma startup community, Apple Inc, OKC Thunder & Texas Rangers.

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