Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Decennial Census

I've been working part-time at the US Census. This is a bootstrap operation. A few old hands have hired staff to test, hire, and train new staff, who will prepare for Census Day: 1 April 2010.
There are addresses to check. To do this, the Census hires local people; so each applicant gets a geocode that indicates the census sector where they live. These sectors have numbers that show the state and county and then seem to be unsystematic at the next level. There are tighter breakdowns for cities, but in Vermont it may be sufficient to specify just the sector.

Questionnaires are mailed out a couple of weeks before C Day. Eventually 'Enumerators' will go out to collect information from people who didn't return this questionnaire. We don't know how many enumerators until we see the mail-back. Actually UPS handles these questionnaires. (There is a separate Community Survey, which asks more detail from a relatively small sample of the population. The results of the current survey just came out.)

I've been doing phone duty. I call a public office like a local Department of Labor office, a school, or municipal office or library and schedule a testing session. When applicants reply to ads they call a global number. They are asked to key in their zip code, and the call is transferred to the appropriate state or area. In our case our office in Williston, which is called Burlington, but covers all of Vermont. I tell them the time and place of a nearby testing and write down their name and phone on the appropriate list. The RAs (Recruiting Assistants) take these lists with them along with the paperwork and 4 forms of the non-supervisory test. Testing packets have to be put together ahead of time in order to make the testing go smoothly. We avoid scheduling these sessions in police stations or the military or any place that might seem scary if they had personal information about the ultimate respondents. We tell the applicants to bring two forms of ID, and there are forms on which to record this information. There are forms for everything. The Census people have been doing this for a long time.

I put together some notes to help applicants find their way to the testing sites. These can be attached as links to the spreadsheet where the basic information about the site is displayed. I thought a link to a Google Map would also be helpful, so I spent some time in Google Maps finding the locations. Kind of interesting. Some of the DOL managers say thing like, "It's next to the Fire Station. Everyone knows where that is."

I got a call from a lady who had called the Bennington DOL (Dept of Labor) to confirm the time of testing. It was different from the time I had on the schedule, so I told her my time. It turned out that Bennington was right. I wanted to call the lady back, but she had her phone ID blocked and I neglected to ask her phone number. I called Bennington to see if they knew who she was. They did, but I still couldn't find her phone number to call and give her the correct time.

The supervisors said not to worry about it. She would show up and either go home or wait, depending on how much she wanted the job. I felt terrible. There are protections so that no PII (personally identifiable information) is made available. Papers are to be shredded and they will be once we get a shredder.

The person responsible for the recruitment process is a helicopter pilot who is married to a policeman. She is very good at what she does.

Later the supervisors were telling stories about workers who had attitudes, wouldn't follow the Census procedures, or worse, made up the data. You could tell they were cheating when you saw that all the families they reported had the same configuration. This operation flushes a lot of staff through itself. You have to recruit 9-10 people to fill one slot. It is part-time part-time work.

I'm pretty good on the phone, so I may wind up doing tech support for the HHCs (hand-held computers). Everything has an acronym. ADN = Acronym-Driven Nomenclature.

Monday, December 1, 2008

the picture in question

Mark Hammerschlag's Bar Mitzvah photo. I wasn't there but I asked Renae in Houston about who was and we wrote the names on the back of the photo. The list is also on Saul's Flickr page.