Monday, May 3, 2010

Kushibo joins the Census Bureau

My nation called, and I answered.

It is one of the oldest traditions of government we have, the counting of everyone in the entire country. It goes back to 1790, and it's something I learned about and admired since grade school, not only because I wondered how they did it, but also because I have pored over and used oh-so-much Census Bureau data in my work and studies over the years.

And now I thought I'd give something back. They needed Korean speakers and they paid reasonably well (enough to justify putting other work on hold for a couple months), and so I joined the US Census Bureau.

The experience has taught me many things, not least among them is how mucked up government service can be, and how surly regular citizens can be about something that should be seen as their civic, if not patriotic, duty.

My experiences echo one of the themes of this post from DokdoIsOurs — that those who come to Korea for their first real post-college job often have no clue that the workplace problems they encounter (e.g., supervisors who don't know anything but demand respect, impromptu meetings with people who are utterly clueless, wasted time, putting the wrong people into the wrong positions, etc.) are universal and not a sign of how effed-up Korea is.

In short, this is a refresher course in something I had gotten a taste of back in college: how mucked up a company can be (this is something I learned all too clearly back at UCI when I worked for a certain famous company that does a certain famous thing).

I have also learned what a-holes some people in this country can be. Seriously, there are people who are trying to prevent you from doing your job to fulfill a major requirement of our Constitution that also has the added benefit of seeing Federal funds fairly and even divvied out to local governments, and they are shooing you away, yelling at you, or engaging in other matter of confrontation or avoidance just to fu¢k with you or the government. (Some of them are also worried you're at their door as part of a sophisticated scam.)

On the plus side, though, I've worked out what could be a very interesting comedy out of the whole thing: Census Training Day™ or The Enumerator™ (please note the trademark).

And this, kiddies, is why I've missed two Daily Kors in a row and while Daily Kor was about all I was doing this past week (hastily typed out during my lunch break at McDonald's via their WiFi service).

UPDATE (June 2010):
The experience was less than stellar (see here and here).

UPDATE (December 2010):
And here.


  1. I wonder how they are training census workers along the border to deal with situations like these:

    I'd hate to be a Census workier stumbling upon criminal enterprises

  2. Never mind that returning the census is each citizen's patriotic duty, but more than's EXTREMELY easy and quick that I just don't see why people don't want to do it. If you don't read and write English (or any of the other languages they provide), I can understand...but otherwise, I just don't see why they can't mail it in.

  3. John, though the training is short, Census Bureau enumerator training covers situations that are dangerous-looking. In short, if some place looks safe for some reason or other, you just don't go there and you send it up the chain of command.

    Moreover, the first thing out of any enumerator's mouth, after, "Hi, I'm Kushibo and I'm with the Census Bureau" (they don't all say Kushibo, of course) is the little spiel about Title 13 privacy, as he/she hands the person at the door a statement in English or Spanish telling them of the privacy issues. It basically states that the enumerator could be severely fined or jailed for revealing information, and nothing found out by the Census Bureau is shared with any other government agency.

    For this purpose, I coined the phrase, "We don't care, and we don't share."

    At any rate, enumerators are not supposed to go inside a house, so they're not going to spot or see anything that a mail carrier, utility worker, or cop responding to any call wouldn't have already found out.

    The whole "A census worker once tested me; I ate his liver with fava beans and a nice chianti" line is precisely why.

  4. LastnameKim wrote:
    Never mind that returning the census is each citizen's patriotic duty, but more than's EXTREMELY easy and quick that I just don't see why people don't want to do it.

    Well, a big part of the non-response part is that the Census Bureau has units listed where no one now lives, and all that has to be followed up.

    Apparently in Hawaii there are a lot of secondary units at various addresses, and if they're vacant, someone has to go check that out.

    Now, one reason people are not forthcoming, at least here in Honolulu, is that a lot of these secondary units — and tertiary units we discover while investigating the secondary unit — are built without the full understanding and support of the City and County of Honolulu, if you get my meaning.

    So again, I tell them, "We don't care, and we don't share." I suspect a few of my follow-ups were from upper or middle-class Honoluluans hiding the fact that they have an illegal rental on their property.

    And this was to be part of the theme of a future post on this: I'm seeing a lot of this skirting of the law that some foreign residents of Korean cities are fond of saying is so common in Korea "but which we don't do back home." Oh, how wrong that is.

    If you don't read and write English (or any of the other languages they provide), I can understand...but otherwise, I just don't see why they can't mail it in.

    The list of languages they have for which they will provide language services (if not in person then by phone, after the initial contact) is quite extensive, right down to Haitian Creole. I'll list that later.

    And of course it's available in Spanish, to avoid "misunderstandings" like those John hinted at above. And workers are sent out into their own 'hoods (or nearby 'hoods) so that they're familiar with streets, type of people, etc., and so that they will be accepted by the public. I'm a grad student, and my region has four universities or other institution of higher learning in it or nearby, so I'm a natural fit.

    The only thing I decided not to do is follow the dress code completely about wearing long pants. It's been unseasonably muggy lately, and this is the tropics: It looks more unprofessional after traipsing up some hill to be drenched in sweat than it does to wear clean and neatly cut conservative shorts.

  5. LastnameKim, to further answer your question, I think if you hear that such-and-such area has such-and-such return rate, then I think you can take the percentage of non-responses requiring follow-up (NRFU, or non-response follow-up), which is 100% minus the return rate, and then multiple that by two-thirds to find out a closer approximation of who didn't turn it in.

    So if some region has a 70 percent return rate (which I think is typical), then they are 30 percent NRFU, of which two-thirds (20 percent of the total) just didn't bother to turn it in.

    Now for the US as a whole, that's some twenty million or so households. And this army of Census Bureau workers — the number itself may reach into the hundreds of thousands — must go and search them out.

    And on average, this costs $60 per household. It's a good jobs creation program for a couple months.


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