What exactly is an enumerator?

They come in various sizes, ages and colors. Over one shoulder is slung a black satchel that’s waterproof and rip-stop, bullet-proof too. From a black cord around their necks hangs a badge showing a teeny US flag, the seal of the Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census, and the words: Census Enumerator.

Yes, folks, these are the brave women and men knocking on your doors to ask you sometimes startling questions—Are you male or female?—and hurriedly marking down your answers before you lose patience with the process. They enumerate in the cold and rain and heat, at all hours of the day from 9:00 a.m. till dark.

woman showing badge

That little census form that you didn’t fill out but would have taken you about five minutes to do yourself? Enumerators have been through four days of training, alternately overwhelming and boring, to learn how to fill it in for you.

They have sworn to keep all individual census data confidential for the rest of their lives. They have been finger-printed, so they will be found should they mess up. They guard even papers to be thrown away that have  PII (personally identifiable information) on them and turn them in to their crew leaders to be shredded.

Enumerators are a breed that appears in profusion only once every ten years. And I am one of them.


The Language of Enumerators

Like any profession, we have our jargon. In your line of work, you  may have to account for every quarter hour that you work on a piece of paper. You probably call that piece of paper a timesheet. To us, it’s a D-308. We fill one out every working day. The things on which we write your answers to questions are EQs. If you live at an HU part of the year with your primary residence elsewhere, you’re a UHE.

You think this is easy?

It’s weird. The work is clearly not rocket science, but it’s also not always a snap. Buildings appear for which we have no record; buildings disappear, too. People come and go. Apartments get mixed up. If you started your lease on April 2, 2010, we have to find out who was there on April 1; we also need to enumerate you if you didn’t respond to the census in your prior home, even if that home was in Walla Walla, Washington. Which requires a different form, of course.

Okay, I was kidding about the bullet proof satchel. But the handy-dandy Enumerator Manual does advise wearing comfortable shoes . . . in case we have to run!

Word to the Wise

I’m amazed at how well the whole system works. Imagine for a moment that you need to start up a nation-wide company that will last for roughly six months with the bulk of the work being done in about three months. You’ll need to hire, train, and supervise over 600,000 workers. Ready? Go!

Sure, there are mistakes and some wasted time. But the whole effort, to my former management consulting eyes, is nothing short of a miracle.

So when your doorbell rings and you see before you a census enumerator, here’s my advice: just answer the questions. If you do, we’ll be out of your hair in fewer than 10 minutes. If you hide behind your door or otherwise obfuscate, you’re wasting your own tax dollars and time.

young guy from census picsWoman from census pictures

Trust me, a savvy enumerator never gives up.

man enumerator adultWe know the census provides the information that determines political representation, number and location of libraries, day care centers, schools, and roads. We know how much businesses, scientists and other researchers depend upon accurate census data.

We’ll find you. Because if you live here, you need to be counted. And we’re just savvy enough to do the job. Any questions?

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