Monday, May 10, 2010

Narfoo: Working for the 2010 Census

Looking around the room at the other members of my crew, I see real diversity.  The youngest is 19, and the oldest, whose favorite all time job was as a bar tender in Hawaii, won't say her age.  I'm guessing 68. I am not the only underemployed teacher. Besides me, there is another out of work teacher, as well as a University instructor (teaches Argumentation, as in Debate Teams), and two biologists: one works for Fish and Wildlife and specializes in salmon, one former Forest service employee who specializes in Native plants and collects seeds on a seasonal basis.  The youngest is a 19 year old very fresh faced college student. Another young man, recently married, has been an anthropology graduate student, taking a year off before moving to NY to work on his PhD (specializing in "borders"). We include a full-time mother of five, a former city councilwoman and computer specialist, also in her 60's, who would prefer a permanent job but has been working through the temporary agency, a retired masseuse, and our crew leader, a sharp young veteran who used to work for an orthotics/prosthetics company and now works one day a week at a comic book store (and went to the opening showing of IronMan 2 after midnight last week.) 

What has drawn us together is that we all needed work and took the test to be hired to work on the US Census 2010.  In this county (Whatcom), 400 people were hired from 4000 that passed the test.  I read in the newspaper that 64,000 Census workers were hired across the nation, including two of my brothers, who are working for the Census in Florida and in Denver. If I do the math, I estimate that 600,000 people across the country took the test and passed but were not hired, such as my partner, Lynne, who was called when we were downtown and found that the job was already filled when she called back. I am impressed by the number of intelligent, capable, hard-working, responsible Americans who need jobs.

For the most part, people who have answered doors that I have knocked on are friendly enough.  The odd character thinks the Census is an invasion of privacy (at best) or part of a conspiracy (at worst). Some people are clearly home and refuse to open the door when I knock, like the woman who was obviously standing a foot away on the other side of the door who told me she was in the tub. Some, like the elderly woman who answered the first door that I knocked on, enjoy the company and invite us in. Paul, one of the other enumerators, knocked on door of a man who berated him (for about 10 minutes) (through the upstairs window) because Paul had woken him up, along with his wife and children.  It was 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon.  By the way, 10 minutes is about the time it would have taken to answer the enumerator's questions.  Another of my colleagues conducted an interview at the front door of a house that was clearly cooking meth.  One has to wonder what he was thinking...perhaps he knew that we are trained to do only our job and ignore the rest.

I had to learn the lingo: NRFU (pronounced narfoo) is the code for Non-Response FollowUp, the job for which I have been hired.  I am known as an Enumerator, someone who goes to HUs (Housing Units) of people (known as Respondents) who have not returned their Census form in the mail (that's the Non-Response part). Every day we fill our the D-308, which normal people would call the daily payroll form. The D1Es are also known as the EQs, the Enumerator Questionnaires (with the script we must follow verbatim to ask you questions).  The D1E(S) is the Spanish version.  I have my official Census satchel, stuffed with the appropriate forms like the Info-Comm, used to send a message to someone else, such as my Crew Leader (boss) (whom I see every day) and the NV, the form to leave at someone's door if they don't answer (Notice of Visit) (D-26), filled out with valuable data like the LCO, the CLD, and my ID.   There are more, my favorite being the WHUHE (pronounced woo-he) (Whole Household Usual Home Elsewhere).  I only got (an embarrassing) 82% on the final (open book) test over this material, the test which serves as the final assessment of my readiness.

Following the script, we have to ask some funny things, like we have to ask everyone whether they are male or female, even if we think we know the answer.  This translates to funny questions, like "Your son, is he male or female?"   We have to ask what race the respondent is, even though, for example, Wikipedia says "human races are said not to exist, as taxonomically all humans are classified as the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens."  Still, the Census gives you a choice of twelve races, which seem a lot like ethnic groups to me, including White, Asian Indian, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, Black (including African American or Negro), Chinese...and the box for "Some other race," which is what you should choose if you are Hispanic.  Very strange that a huge segment of the US population does not merit its inclusion on the list of suggested "races."  A few respondents have checked "Some other race" and filled in "Human Race."

Despite the high probability that the training class could be so boring as to be deadly, our crew leader, Pete, managed to inject some fun into the process by telling us from the first day that we were the "Best Crew Ever."  For a few nanoseconds, I fell for it. Then I realized that he was having fun and setting us up for a competition with the other crews, a competition that would perhaps motivate us to be more efficient and productive and perhaps prolong his employment with the Census.  That point, I get.  I think everyone on our crew, and I would guess, everyone working for the Census across the country, wishes that the job was more than temporary, that the work would not end in three weeks and would lift us a while longer from the stress of unemployment or underemployment.  From this vantage point, the WPA (which gave eight million Americans from 1935 - 1943 jobs and resulted in the construction of many bridges, state park lodges and schools that are still testifying to the capability of the American workers) was a great idea.  One wonders why the current government has not taken this page from the history books.

1 comment:

  1. A great summary of what we've been up to. Of course Sky would not mention that she has been a great Assistent Crew Leader, patiently helping her fellow Narfooers compile their forms. One of my favorit parts of this sadly too short of a job, has been scheming with Sky and others about ways to get reluctant respondents to answer. I've also been happy to meet such a broad spectrum of my community, the folks whom did not get counted by the census right off the bat, but more interestingly the community that formed so quickly around the job itself. I really enjoyed getting to know my crew and working with a great mix of folks for this last month.