By MIEKE CARIS
2020 U.S. Census Enumerator
You probably have noticed census takers in your community this year, since they helped conduct the 2020 U.S. Census. I was one of them. “Enumerator” was the official title given to us by the U.S. Census Bureau.
I check my government phone. Yep, this is the address. I knock, since I see no doorbell. It’s a nice glass door, with a solid layer of varnish on the wooden frame. I hear some sort of clamor coming from inside the house but can’t differentiate whether it’s voices or some music. Wait, do I hear voices and music? I call out my name to introduce myself and to let the voices know I am no solicitor or intruder.
“Hello, I am here for a Census interview”!
The lawn is well maintained. A few flower pots decorate the entrance. No one comes to the door. Through the glass door, I see people. What should I do? I decide to be brave, so I knock again and call out the purpose of my visit. Finally, I hear a voice that seems directed at me:
“Go away or I call the police.”
This response made it seem pretty evident that the owner is in no mood to talk to me, so I do as instructed through my training and leave a notice of visit with a personalized code to give the demographics by mail or phone. I fold the paper and squeeze it through the rigid door frame and go on to the next address.
I feel bad that I failed in adding that address to the 2020 Census. In our training, however, we are told “safety first.”
That incident made me recall a visit from a few days ago, and reminded me that I was secretly happy the person was not home. The notes on my phone, from an enumerator who had visited this address before me, said, “The person who lives here calls himself Adolf Hitler…and he wants to be left alone.”
Standing outside in Florida’s heat and humidity for a few minutes, my hands and face get wet from perspiration. Operating the phone with a thin layer of moisture on my fingers costs time, which this interviewee has generously granted. “It is important to get all of the demographics,” I tell myself, as more moisture drips from my face. I feel embarrassed. On a few such occasions, I am offered water or a cooler spot. I even added a towel to my bag next to my supply of hand sanitizer and masks.
The smells in this apartment complex transport me into another culture. Searching for the correct number, I see many doors with colorful decorations and scribbles on the floor. I carefully step around them as I knock on the door. With my mask on, I explain my visit. I am pleased many families have heard of the Census and are willing to give me the information.
At one house, a young man actually asked me what the Census is — what was I talking about? The mother appears in the background and tells him, “The lady just needs to know how many people live here, the age and race….no worries, she can get the demographics.”
At the mobile home park, a few children were interested in what I was doing. I like to explain to youngsters that the Census is a recurrent activity. I hook it to the times of “Hamilton.” Nowadays, everybody has heard of this historical figure, thanks to Lin Miranda and his hit Broadway show.
Since 1780, the USA has counted its people every ten years. This year is unique, with the Covid-19 pandemic and the presidential election. On one out of four visits, I hear, “I am not interested in government, take me off your list.” My response is that “You exist, so please be counted. You have a young child. You want to have resources from the government.”
One person responded, “I do not care. We are renting and will move again.”
At other doors, I ring or knock but people do not even come to the door, maybe because they’re afraid of the Coronavirus.
A few times, I have to conduct the interview without actually seeing the people because I have to talk to them through the door. I hear their voices and create a picture of them in my head.
I appreciate it when a household lets me wait, while they go to get their masks, although most don’t bother. Others get annoyed with me. “I am sending the dog out if you do not leave,” one person said.
Others say, “Ma’am, you are on private property, you need to leave.”
Doing the census allows me to interact with a large variety of people, some who are very willing and pleasant, while others are suspicious, angry, and unpleasant:
“I am no snitch,” I have been told. “If you can’t get an interview that is your problem.”
At another apartment complex, I knock and hear a voice behind the door, “No, we are not interested.” I see a young African-American man sitting on the steps of a house, opposite, so I ask him, “Sir, do you know how many people live in that house?”
“Hey, you heard the lady. She doesn’t want to talk. I am not going to talk. You don’t live here. I recommend you leave, NOW!”
I always explain that am not soliciting and that Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that the country conduct a count of its population every 10 years. Our counting for the 2020 Census started April 1, 2020, but drags on. We count who lives where and with how many people. I feel my work is worthwhile.
It seems that many apartment complexes have a high turnover rate. But I also have found that house owners have given way to real estate investors. Houses are rented out to people with no interest in joining the community. Many people don’t even know their next-door neighbors. Only at a few student housings complexes do I feel an ease of talking between neighbors, or with them talking with me. Nowadays, so many of us are more eager to be involved with online communities.
On a few occasions, people are grateful that we do this work and impressed that we dare to talk with strangers. “We are all people,” I say. I recently heard on the radio that Florida is the 8th lowest state for responding to the Census. We hope to get the remaining 20% of the people who have not responded by March or April, adding their information to the count.
I drive along the street, zig-zagging around potholes screaming for repairs. I climb up the stairs. The steps could use some paint. I knock on the door, go over the address again and prepare myself for a visit/interview.
In this case, a woman calls out that she is coming. A little girl sneaks out and stands smiling before me. I introduce myself and show my badge. The girl takes the badge and tells me the picture of me is pretty. I try to engage her in my story that everyone is going to be counted in this big country. I ask how far she can count. She makes it up to 10.
The lady of the house tells me she has already responded to it. I ask her if she is willing to go over the missing information with me again. Often people tell me they have already responded to the Census, as way to wave me away. I tell her the Census will have no duplicate information, so I end up getting the interview.
On Oct. 14, the U.S. Supreme Court granted President Donald Trump’s request to stop counting. On Oct. 15 at 11 p.m., the Census count is stopped. At that time, New Tampa was 99.8% finished. The results will be collected and presented to the president on Dec. 31.
Being a Census enumerator has been quite a ‘ride.’ I honestly was tempted to quit after the first two days, but I stuck it out. The 2020 Census will determine representation in the U.S. Congress, will help determine the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding and provide data that will affect communities for the next decade.
For example, from 2000 to 2010, Florida gained two U.S. House seats, going from 25 to 27 U.S. Representatives.
I am eager to see the results from 2020.