Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why I Quit My Census Job

This past winter when I heard from a friend that the U.S. Census Bureau was hiring workers for the 2010 census I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for a part time job.

For years I have been researching my family genealogy. I have often read the census records from 1790 (the first official U.S. Census) to 1930 (the latest year for which the census is available to the public.) I often thought that if I had the opportunity I would be a census worker myself so future generations could view the results of my conscientious efforts.

In early Spring I took the test for be a census worker. I passed the test and was offered a job as census enumerator. Basically, that is a pre census job in locating the housing units to send the official census forms in the fall.

I was scheduled to attend a week long class before I begin my actual job. The first day of class a red flag went up.

Sure, we were to be paid $16.25 an hour and now I knew why. This is a hard job. Not only is there a lot of technical detail to learn, you have to traipse around neighborhoods barging into people's personal lives trying to ascertain if anyone actually lives in that abandoned barn in the back of the house.

Each day we were given a warning about safety precautions. What was this? Did this mean we wouldn't be welcomed with open arms? Remember, this was before all the crazy tea-bagging and "You lie!" wing nut activity. Apparently there are folks out there who do not like the government any way shape or form.

My training was scanty. I had problems with my GPS unit. Heck, my instructor didn't even have a working GPS unit. The first day out in the field, our leader quit. The signs weren't good.

On my first day out in the field, I look for and find my neighborhood assignment. Now where to park my vehicle? On the lawn? In the road? Then I have to stand out in the middle of the road to get a good satellite connection. The good vibes I had about being a selfless census taker are rapidly disappearing.

I can't find my starting address. I see an older man and a teenage working on installing a stair from the deck of their doublewide. I introduce myself as a United State Census worker. They look up from their work to me with unsmiling faces. They are obviously not thrilled to see me. Maybe I'm interrupting them from their work or maybe I work for THE GOVERNMENT. I live in a very conservative area of Sussex County, Delaware. I have since found out this is Teabagging County. Little did I know then.

I asked them for directions to my first address. The older man gestures impatiently towards the end of the development. Still, I'm the only one who is speaking the mother tongue of the colonies, English.

I proceed toward the other end of the development. I find my address. I walk towards the door and immediately I hear a dog barking with alarm. My first house and I get a dog attack. An elderly gentleman appears behind the glass storm door. I identify myself as a U.S. Census worker and explain my mission. He also is not thrilled to see me. I ask him my questions and he confirms that the information I have is correct. I think him and proceed to the next house on my list.

My car is at the other end of the development. Should I move it? Would the person who owns the property object to my car being parked out in front of his Home Sweet Home? Probably. It was then and there that I decided "This isn't the job for me." Nope. That was it. I quit.

Now I don't quit jobs lightly. I take very seriously my responsibilities when I apply for a new job. But from Day One, all the signals were negative for me on this census taker job. I would be traipsing all over the countryside into people's back yards, sticking my nose where it didn't belong, asking questions that the recipients were not welcoming. I was an intrusion on their lives. That is not my personality.

When I got home after a full 2 1/2 hours or so (one windy afternoon) out in the field, I called my field manager and submitted my resignation.

Later that day I wrote about my resignation on my blog. I was promptly castigated by some readers on my blog about being a "quitter" and taking the money and run (I got paid for the week of training.) To be perfectly frank, I didn't care whether they paid me or not (they did about two weeks later.) I just felt like a tremendous burden was lifted from my shoulders.

Now this week I hear where a census worker was found dead. He was naked, had "Fed" written on his chest, and was tied to a tree in a wooded area of Kentucky (not God's country by any stretch of the imagination.) Uh huh. My worst fears were realized.

Now don't get me wrong. I have all the respect in the world for our census workers. It is a job that needs to be done. It is hard work. Even at $16.25 an hour, they still aren't paid enough for what they have to learn and the sheer physical effort that they have to put forth in searching out addresses and people. It is a thankless job.

We have Wall Street types and bankers who get paid millions (and in some cases billions) just for rearranging money packages. Then we have people like census workers and our military personnel sacrifice their personal comfort and put their lives on the line for the betterment of this country. What is wrong with this picture?

I point the finger of blame on the current version of the Republican Party who has whipped up such an anti-government fervor in this country that causes violence like this to happen.

I've always felt tinge of guilt because I quit my census taker job but now I know why. I'm not putting my life on the line to be exposed to the danger that the Republican Party and the wingnuts have caused to happen in this country.

Ironically, about a month ago the Census Bureau called me and asked me if I wanted a job as a poll taker in the fall. Even though I quit my enumerator job in the spring they still wanted me back. That's how bad they are hurting for census workers. I turned down the job offer.


  1. Can't say I blame you - I think you lasted longer than I would have.

  2. One of my wingnut friends complemented me on my blog posting until he got tot he end where I pointed the finger of blame at the current version of the Republican party. He thought the blog posting was very funny until he read the cold hard truth at the end. I offer no apologies. I call them the way I see them. If that ruffles their feathers, that's all to the good I say.

  3. I don't blame you at all, the offices here in NY are a mess, I read an article about the offices in Colorado which were referred to as "Perpetual Chaos" They promised me 25 hours, I received 8. No one contacts me to update on current situations. Everything is need to know basis, big joke. Sad to see such a great endeavor of mankind go to waste. Thanks for sharing Ron.

  4. James,
    I'm sorry to hear that your census worker office was such a mess. I saw this looming problem early on. I hated to quit but I didn't see how I could continue. The Census is very important and I have great respect for those who stuck it out. Perhaps if I didn't have my part time job, I would have stuck it out too. But I know I would have felt very discouraged if the chaos I saw at my training continued throughout the process. It is a shame.

    Thank you for your comment.


  5. Stradlater1:32 AM

    "I would be traipsing all over the countryside into people's back yards, sticking my nose where it didn't belong, asking questions that the recipients were not welcoming. I was an intrusion on their lives."

    You knew or should have known all this to be true before applying.

    The Kentucky dead Census taker story turned out to be a suicide. He was a real quitter!

    The Republican/Wingnuts don't help the atmosphere but any door to door job or even phone cold calling was always like that. It's Jehovah's amusing way of keeping Jehovah's Witnesses from spreading too fast!

  6. Stradlater,

    I didn't realize how intrusive I was being "traipsing all over the countryside." When I was growing up I was a paper boy for many years. I thought I was used to going to people's homes but what I didn't realize that this was under different circumstances.

    You're probably right in that I "should have known" but I did not and that is why I quit. I would rather have an occupation where I am in more control (like my present job as a hotel front desk clerk) than roaming around stranger's houses.

    I don't consider myself a quitter because once I realize that this job was not one that I could do well I decided to save the government money and myself angst and leave the job opening to someone else who was more capable than me.

    What I "knew or should have know all this to be true before applying" was beside the point. I didn't realize it. If that means I made a mistake, so be it. People make mistakes.



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