My Census angst is strong

counting the whole number of persons in each State

census2020-storyimageMy Census angst is multifaceted. As a librarian – retired, but still – I have come to count on the statistics that the Census Bureau provides.

An article in The Atlantic by an enumerator rings true. “In an ideal census count, all households would submit their own information, which is by far the most accurate way to account for a community’s true demographic makeup.”

In 2020, 67% of addresses were accounted for through self-response to date, with the rest having been accounted for through the Nonresponse Followup (NRFU) operation. I said to my friends that, optimally, I would have had no Census enumeration to do because everyone would have returned their form via mail, phone, or, for the first time, online.

Why was this so Census so difficult? “That lag between early May, when door-knocking was supposed to start, and August, when it did, [mattered]… Accurately completing a census case means knowing who lived at an address on April 1, 2020, whether that information is taken from a resident or, oftentimes, a neighbor. The further you stray from the reference day, the less accurate the data become, particularly in a time of heavier population displacement.”

Also true. “Resistance to census participation transcends age, race, geography, and party affiliation.” The stories I could tell IF I could tell…

Not ha-ha funny

“What’s funniest about trying and failing to persuade someone to give you 10 minutes of their time for the census is that an enumerator has to document the reason given for a refusal. One rationale is that it gives the next person who attempts to bug a stubborn case a sense of what might be coming.” Oh, yes.

“In our data-capture app, many of the prefilled explanations we must enter for why we failed to gather data are unusually blunt: The respondent ‘does not want to be bothered’; thinks the ‘survey is a waste of taxpayer money’; has ‘privacy,’ ‘COVID,’ or ‘anti-government’ concerns; or is simply ‘too busy.'” Except for the “too busy” people, I never got a positive response from a previous refusal.

“Even if residents were clearly home, they often didn’t come to the door.” I thought it was just me.

“Ater a certain number of attempts on a case, enumerators are instructed to find a proxy—a neighbor, a mail carrier, a building manager, anyone vaguely credible—to speak on the composition of the residence in question.” This was easier in a multi-dwelling building than in single-story homes. And it was also more successful regarding structures that were vacant, or no longer there, on April 1.

“And in many cases, with enough luck, patience, or cajoling, somebody helps fill in the most basic blank of the census: how many people live at an address.” You’d be surprised, though, how many people would not even provide THIS information, even when they let me know that they knew the answer. “It’s fair to say that this arrangement isn’t the sturdiest blueprint for democratic representation.”

Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court heard arguments on November 30 about whether undocumented immigrants may be purged from the census rolls when apportioning seats in Congress. I don’t understand how this can happen, for two separate reasons. Excluding them would be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which calls for “counting the whole number of persons in each State.” The attempt to make them invisible is as offensive as the three-fifths compromise in the original Constitution.

Beyond that, though, I literally don’t know this would work logistically. Asking the citizenship question was blocked by the Supreme Court. If there’s no Census question, what is the source of the data to exclude them? And it should be granular numbers down to the Census tract for reapportionment purposes, not just statewide guesstimates.

In The Atlantic article: “Sometimes, when an American told me they were Hispanic, they’d rush to adamantly assure me that they were a legal U.S. citizen too.” The efforts to have a citizenship question included in the Census, though it was rejected, succeeded in creating fear in the immigrant community so they wouldn’t participate in the count as robustly.

Keep going?

On November 17, a Boston Globe editorial declared the courts must protect the 2020 Census. “Federal judges should extend the deadline to ensure an accurate count. The problem now would be to remobilize a workforce of tens of thousands of temporary workers to attempt a task even further from the April 1 Census date.

Census reports it reached more than 99%  of the addresses in each state.

When I read reports that Census workers were reportedly told to submit false information, it broke my heart. I should note, as an enumerator myself that I witness no such manipulation. Indeed, there were constant reminders of what NOT to do. Don’t get data from those online companies. Surely, though, there was pressure to get done as quickly, but accurately as possible.

Note that The U.S. Census Bureau has announced this week updated plans for releasing information about quality, along with the first results from the census, “including releasing an unprecedented number of data quality indicators.”

You can only do so much

logistics

As I noted recently, I’ve been working the Census. But as the September 30 October 4 deadline approached, it became physically harder. The irony is that as my country needed me the most, I had to cut back. You can only do so much.

When the area I was covering was in my neighborhood, roughly Pine Hills for you Albanians, it was an easier process. I’d tool around on the bike for four hours. Then come home for a 30-minute lunch, while recharging my precious phone, then do another four hours. I’d be tired but it was manageable. One week I’d work Monday and Tuesday, take Wednesday off, then work Thursday through Saturday.

I always took Sunday off. From a purely monetary position. that made no sense. There was a bonus for working Sundays. And indeed for working up to 10 hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as the deadline loomed. Back in 1990, when the decennial Census was my only source of income, I would have jumped on that. But I was thirty years fresher. Now a relative of mine is putting in a lot of weekend hours, but he’s a younger man than I.

It was an obsession, actually

My understanding wife realized I was a bit on a mission. My share of housecleaning collapsed, as did the yardwork. Writing this blog and volunteer work fell off. Speaking of falling, the Census folks were always pushing useful information such as don’t walk while texting, and using three points of contact when using the stairs.

As I started working further from home, it came more difficult to get back for lunch. That wasn’t that big a deal, actually. Charging the phone was an issue, though. And, TMI, finding a loo in the days of COVID is trickier. I was near the state museum once; nope, still closed.

So on the penultimate full week, I decided to work six five-hour days. Five hours is as long we can legally work without taking a break. The phone doesn’t need a recharge, and the shorter day was better for me.

Aging is a process. And a mindset, I suppose.

Working the NRFU: Census 2020

Non-Reponse Followup

census2020-storyimageWAY back in May or June 2019, right before I retired, I applied to work Census 2020. I heard nothing. I visited a Census recruitment table in the Pine Hills branch of the Albany Public Library shortly before the COVID shutdown, sometime earlier this year. The representative said, “Don’t worry about it They’re still in process.”

Then the pandemic hit. So I didn’t know what this was going to mean for the process. When I worked the 1990 Non-Reponse Followup or NRFU, I began in late April. Then in early June, I got a phone call. After asking me a few questions, the gentleman said I was in.

On June 12, I got an email. “We are pleased to confirm your acceptance of a temporary position with the US Census Bureau as an Enumerator. Working in the field, Enumerators visit households that haven’t responded to the 2020 Census, speaking with residents to collect 2020 census data. Your employment is dependent upon successfully clearing a background investigation.”

“You are required to do the following!” I needed to “Schedule a Fingerprint Day appointment to be fingerprinted within 7 days of this letter… Please note: The action item above is time-sensitive.” I was to “bring ALL of the listed documents to your scheduled appointment, or you will not be fingerprinted.

Another bad photo ID

“Employment Confirmation E-mail attachment with barcode – Display this attachment via an electronic device OR print a hard copy of the attachment.” Naturally, I brought BOTH. They wanted two forms of ID; the list had a great deal of detail. My passport and my DMV card were acceptable.

“As part of appointment, your photo may be taken so that a badge may be created if you successfully complete the background check process and are hired. Pose and expression: Have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open. Face the camera directly with full face in view.” I couldn’t wear glasses, a hat or head covering, unless I had a medical reason. It was not my favorite picture of me.

“As a Census Selectee you are subject to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprint-based Criminal History Record Check for the purpose of making a security determination. If you have a criminal history record, you will be afforded an opportunity to complete or challenge the accuracy of the information in the record, or decline to do so.” After I cleared the investigation, I had to do a bunch of paperwork, such as the Emergency Contact Information and Payment Authorization.

And on August 19, a handful of people met in the Albany Capital Center; the building was locked but we were let in. Three hours later, we are trained NRFU Census enumerators.

Obviously, there is more to tell down the road. NONE of it will involve politics, per my agreement. Absolutely NONE of it will include any identifiable information about who I visited. I’ll be doing this until September 30, as far as I can tell.

A flimsy surrogate; and yet…

faith and the Census

and yetWhen the singer/songwriter/actress Sara Bareilles was on some morning show recently, she was asked how she was faring in the era of COVID-19. She noted that while she was staying connected via ZOOM, et al., it wasn’t at all the same thing. Each substitute was a “flimsy surrogate” for the real thing.

This resonated with me greatly. I’ve discovered that there are actually MORE chances for hearing music, seeing productions, and interacting with performers. It’s actually a bit overwhelming, truth to tell. Broadway World alone has tons of video opportunities, more than I can avail myself of. Search YouTube for COVID music or coronavirus music and you’ll find a wealth of clever items. The OUTKAST parody Hey-Ya “Ro-Na is a current favorite.

But I miss hugging. I am told that I’m a very good hugger. How one measures that, I have no idea.

I miss going to the movies. Will there be movie theaters next year? Yeah, there are lots of films available on my TV, computer, and even phone. Nah, I’m NOT watching a movie on my phone.

Not the Lone Ranger

The problem with masks is that people don’t recognize me. I was at a Farmers Market and I said hello to one of my state legislators. They said, “Hello to you, whoever you are.” If I wanted to begin my life of crime, maybe now would be a good time.

And I don’t recognize others. At the one Black Lives Matter events my daughter allowed me to attend with her – it WAS Juneteenth – some nice young man brought us water. It wasn’t until he pulled down his mask that I recognized him as the son of great friends of mine; I’ve known him his whole life.

Ordering food is an adventure. Which one of the seven online websites should I order from? GrubHub or EatStreet or AllMenus or MealO or something else? There are places, fine sit-down restaurants where I’ve eaten, whose menus just don’t translate well to take-out. And yet: the sushi place I ordered from for my wife’s birthday was quite fine.

Having nothing to do with WGBH in Boston

The problem of ZOOM meetings there seems to be so many of them. And yet: the Olin family reunion – my mother-in-law’s people – wouldn’t have met at all without it. And they’ve gathered for over three-quarters of a century. While some of the regulars didn’t make it, others who had moved away were able to “attend.”

My choir meets every two or three weeks. On the one hand, we miss the singing. Getting details about the music we’re not performing is sad. And yet: one of the choir members suggested we share our joys and concerns. That’s something we’d do at the end of every rehearsal. The addition was profoundly meaningful.

I’ve had the chance to go to the Adult Education class, which I could rarely attend in the past because it conflicted with the choir. I’ve even gotten to facilitate it once, about my Martin Luther King references on the blog. And I’m doing another one on July 26 at 8:45 a.m. EDT about faith and the Census. (If you’re that much of a Census junkie, I’ll email/IM you the ZOOM link.)

My Tuesday morning Bible study group stopped meeting for the summer. And yet: the Thursday morning group, which I began attending, continues on. I’ve even led the discussion once and I’ll do it again next month.

The church service is actually on Facebook. We do communion with, as instructed, with whatever is available. That might mean Wheat Thins and shot glasses of Blueberry Peach Cobbler from our local cidery.

Advances in technology

The opportunity to go into my bank has been diminished. And yet: the ATM at my bank, which had dispensed only twenty-dollar bills since forever is now allowing customers to get tens and fives. So if I need $100, I could get 3 $20s, 2 $10s, and 4 $5s, or whatever combination I want.

I understand my former colleagues are now more productive working from home.

My wife is now enamored with Google Classroom, which she barely used five months ago.

There are some innovations, such as no-touch door openers.

So we continue to adapt.

FTC Disclaimer: I noted links to a couple of products/services positively, but I received no remuneration for doing so.

When do we lose our parents?

Parental loss varies by race and socio-economic status.

when do we lose our parentsAs a Census geek and as someone has lost both parents, I was intrigued by a new report about “When do we lose our parents?” It’s called “Parental Mortality is Linked to a Variety of Socio-economic and Demographic Factors.” Here’s the underlying study, Exploring the Link between Socioeconomic Factors and Parental Mortality.

“People lose their fathers earlier in life than their mothers, and the timing of parental loss is linked to factors such as race, educational attainment and poverty status.

“For the first time, the 2014 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) included a series of questions asking respondents whether their parents were still alive.” As you may know, my father died in 2000, my mother in 2011, so my experience is more common.

“For example, among those ages 45 to 49, 26% have lost their mother, while 45% have lost their father. Along these same lines, 7 in 10 of those ages 60 to 64 have a deceased mother, while about 87% have lost their father.” I was 47 when my dad died, 58 when mom passed.

“Among adults ages 25 to 34, about 15% of the white population and Asian population have lost one or both parents. By contrast, about 17% of the Hispanic population and 24% of the black population have experienced the death of a parent.” Fortunately, I am not in this group, but I know many folks who are.

“Among those ages 35 to 44, 43% of those living below the Federal Poverty Level have lost one or both parents, compared to 28% for those living in households with an income-to-poverty ratio of at least 400% of the FPL.

“Parental loss, which varies by race and socio-economic status, is often accompanied by psychological and material consequences. These statistics demonstrate the way these new SIPP data can help assess how socio-economic and demographic characteristics are associated with parental mortality in the United States.”

I suppose this is a bummer of a Mother’s Day post. But my mom always tried to do the right thing by others. My father spent his life addressing inequities. Somehow I don’t think they’d mind.