Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Enumerator 101

I keep thinking I really should post something. I've been really busy the last couple of weeks, and will be for at least another week or two. I got hired for a temp position, working the US Census. At first, I was hired as an Enumerator - the person that goes around knocking on doors. Before any public contact, we had to go through four 8-hour days of training. But the week before my training session was to start, they called me in for an additional day of training, to do all my initial administrative paperwork, and then taught me how to take ink fingerprints.

So, on the first day of training, while everyone else was doing their initial paperwork, I called each one up in turn to do a fingerprint card. That was an interesting experience. Taking each hand in turn, then each finger and tucking the rest out of the way, rolling each across the ink pad, "nail to nail" and then across the fingerprint card, making sure each print was completely within its designated square, with just the right amount of pressure to clearly show each line and ridge. To get a person's wrist to roll from one side to the other correctly, it's best to have them right up against you, but not look at what you're doing. Too often, they tried to "help" and ended up either pressing too hard or smearing the print by not letting me lift each finger straight up. Others had stiff wrists, making it difficult to get their fingers to roll across correctly. At least I was provided with some little stick-on squares to reprint and cover smeared prints, so one messed up print wouldn't disqualify the entire card.

Then, the training: first, being sworn in with the official oath required of all in government - to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, etc. etc. I've taken the same oath as a volunteer appointee to our City Shade Tree Council, and again when I became a Notary Public. Then, lectures about the confidentiality of the data we'd be collecting, anything we might see while out doing our jobs. The government takes the handling of PII - Personally Identifiable Information - very seriously. Since we were all sworn in as Census employees, we could talk about what was necessary to each other, but our assigned paperwork couldn't even be left out where our family members could see it.

We heard that around 80% of the Census forms mailed out had been returned by the deadline. Our job would be to go out and get the data for the the residences that hadn't. The taking of a national census every ten years is in the Constitution, right there in Article I. The first one was done in 1790, and then every decade since. Only statistical data may be distributed, and confidentiality of all answers is maintained for 72 years afterwards. Only then are specific results available to the public (they didn't say it in class, but I know from talking to a friend doing genealogy research on her family that data from the 1890 Census was all lost in a fire).

Then we learned how to fill out the forms - with tiny little boxes to be marked with an "x" (but don't go outside the lines!), printing neatly within the lines of boxes, one letter per box. No crinkling up those unwieldy forms either - only the original creases allowed (while standing outside - no going inside a house - in the wind, writing on a clipboard). This section to be filled in vertically, then these across, and read every question exactly as written. Extra forms for this and for that instance, when and how to use them, how to read the maps of the area we'd each be assigned to work; how to fill out our payroll forms each day, task codes, codes for areas worked, crew codes. Plus, all the government acronyms and more numbers - forms aren't referred to by their names, but by a letter-dash-numbers. We had to learn an entire new language to do this job: Bureaucrat-ese.

The last day of class, our Crew Leader asked me to be a Crew Leader Assistant instead of an Enumerator. Instead of knocking on doors myself, I've ended up supervising six Enumerators - going out with each to observe and evaluate their procedures and knowledge of the field work, collecting completed forms, helping resolve problems. With paperwork to be collected daily, from employees working independently, setting their own hours - it's like herding cats.

I finally have my team reasonably organized, so will probably start working an assignment area myself. Please, if we knock on your door, be nice - it will only take a few minutes time, and we have to get this information, one way or another. Your cooperation is much appreciated.


Pat aka Posh said...

Sounds like a neat job.. the part I don't understand is why finger prints? No fear knocking on my door.. I mailed mine in the first day of April.

Sadge said...

I'm sure the government needs to do background checks with fingerprints to make sure they're not sending convicted burglars or child molestors out to knock on your door, asking questions about your home and family members.