“It was a little like being a private investigator,” Aleka Kostouros, who worked as an enumerator for the census in Minneapolis, said about her experience. The counting part of the census is all wrapped up, with the next task being re-checking all the buildings that were classified as vacant to make sure no one is living in those places. Meawhile the enumerators are finishing up their unusual jobs and tying up the last loose ends. Here’s what two of them had to say about the experience.
Problem solving to get everyone counted
“Overall people were cooperative,” Kostouros said. “I wouldn’t say too many were happy to see me. Only a handful that were rude or annoyed.” Just reaching people sometimes took longer than she expected. Though the enumerators were trained to return to each residence three times, Kostouros found that she might have to go back four or five times.
“The trickiest parts were getting into apartment buildings,” she said, because of the secured entrances. “I had to get a bit crafty,” she said. If she couldn’t reach someone, she’d try to find the property manager or leasing agent. “Basically if there was a phone number anywhere- a for rent sign- something like that, I’d call it.” She talked to a lot of landlords, but it was always a mixed bag getting managers and landlords to cooperate. “A lot felt they couldn’t give out information for privacy purposes,” Kostouros said. While some building managers were helpful, others refused to give out any information. She would have to keep trying or find a neighbor. The condos, Kostouros said, were easier than the apartment buildings. “The condo people knew everything about their neighbors,” she said.
Kostouros said she was never harassed, but she had one experience that she described as a little bit “creepy.” A man she tried to interview said it wasn’t a good time, but he gave her his phone number. She called four or five times to no avail and for a few weeks she went back to his residence several times but no one ever answered the doorbell. Finally, he did answer, but said that it wasn’t a good time. Kostouros insisted, and he invited her into his living room. Kostouros said that the man picked up a scissors and started to play with it near her face.
“I didn’t feel unsafe but I thought: ‘this guy is unpredictable’,” Kostouros said. “Then I think he sensed the change in my mood. He said ‘I’m probably creeping you out. I’m so sorry- my friend is going to be mad at me that I scared the census worker.’ He was definitely a weirdo,” Kostouros said.
On another occasion, Kostouros was at a different residence that she had returned to a number of times, and found the occupant in the back yard with his son. When Kostouros asked him if he would go over the survey with her, he said that he had already sent his survey in. Kostouros tried to explain that once a residence gets on her list, she has to enumerate them even if they have sent the survey in. The man put his fingers five inches from her face and said “I’m not doing any more. Leave me alone”. Kostorouros said that she left and later got one of his neighbors to answer questions about him by proxy.
In the end, Kostouros said what she enjoyed most about the enumerator experience was that she got to know her neighborhood in detail. “I was looking at it with much more detail,” she said “I was really paying attention.”
A little bit of humility
Another enumerator, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was “horrifically underemployed and broke” when she saw a guy at the Wedge passing out fliers about enumerator jobs. She decided to take the test, which she described as a mini-SAT test.
Once she was hired, she found a lot of other artists, writers, and journalists, as well as many people who were in school, working for the census. “There were tons of theatre people,” she said, and a lot of non-traditionally employed people. “It’s one of the few jobs in my life I haven’t been fired from.”
The key to her success, the enumerator said, is that she is “ridiculously foolhardy brave.”
“I’ve done things like circle a person’s home,” she said. “There were a couple of abandoned homes, and I thought- could there be squatters?” While the census training she received didn’t say to look into windows, it did instruct the enumerators to look for signs of abandonment if they feel it is safe.
The main drawback to the job, she said, was getting yelled at. At times she has felt “hated and despised” by not only those who didn’t want to be counted, but by the building managers who don’t want to help the enumerators get into the buildings
She recalled an apartment manager who “ripped me a new one.” The manager yelled at her for twenty minutes. “It was horrible,” she said. “I felt completely abused. It’s like we have little red targets painted on ourselves.”
On the other hand, she also reported having awesome conversations. Among the conversations she enjoyed were those with people who maybe were lonely and liked having someone to talk to, or others who were anti-census but who said it very eloquently
We’d love to hear more of your stories about the 2010 census experience. Were you an enumerator? Did you get enumerated? What problems arose, what unexpected connections did you make? Tell your stories in the comment section below.