Q: When did you work for the U.S. Census Bureau?
A: In the summer of 2000; I started in July.
Q: How old were you?
Q: How did you hear about the job?
A: A friend of mine did it. They paid sixteen dollars an hour. I was working at a bank at the time, so I would leave after work and go from 5 or 5:30 to around 8:30.
Q: That’s late at night—you went door-to-door, right?
A: Yes. I had to go to a specific section of Clifton, NJ; it was mostly older folks. They would get notices in the mail and they just disregarded them. I think they would get like three notices but they just ignored them. So we had to follow up. We’d go to these homes—it wasn’t a retirement community but it was older people. I went with my friend—we had to go in pairs—but sometimes just to get it over with we would go separately.
Q: How did people know you were legitimately from the Census Bureau?
A: We wore Census Bureau badges.
Q: Did you ever have any weird experiences?
A: One time I went to this man’s apartment. He was an older guy, in his fifties, and really fat. I rang the doorbell but no one answered. We were told to ring several times, so I did, and finally this guy came to the door. He was wearing this thing—it wasn’t even a robe— it was just an old beat-up shirt. It went to his leg. I wanted to wait for my friend to come in the apartment with me but she was taking so long, the guy was like, “You’re either going to come in or come back some other time.” I didn’t want to come back, so I went in and the place was a pigsty. He offered me a seat and he had to push all of these things off of it so I could sit. At first I didn’t want to sit but eventually I did. He sat across from me, he crossed his legs, and I COULD SEE! I was so grossed out. I had to ask him the questions, like where he was born, his race. It was the most uncomfortable thing. I tried to concentrate but it was the grossest thing ever. I mean, you try not to look, but…. I ran through the questions and he took forever to answer. Like, I asked him, “What’s your race?” and he said, “Well, my mother is Portuguese… my father was part Hispanic….”
Q: So just to confirm: he wasn’t wearing undies?
A: He was not. He was sitting across from me and crossed his legs. You get the picture.
Q: How long did you do it?
A: For about two months, every other day. It was awkward at first—I felt like a telemarketer.
Q: Did people ever slam the door in your face?
A: Yes. One woman in her late thirties—it was 6:30 or so and I rang her bell—and she yelled at me, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! I did get your notices! I’m eating dinner with my kids! Thank you.” And she shut the door.
Q: What happens in that case? Do they not count her?
A: No. Someone just goes back the next day.
Q: So how do you get the list of people who haven’t responded to the mailings?
A: Every day you go to the office and they give you a list of 20-30 for the night. In cases where you don’t go door-to-door you have to do it over the phone. I preferred calling.
Q: What did you do if the people didn’t speak English? Did you ever run into that?
A: Yes, but I would just note it and someone else would be assigned to go there. We did run into that problem, though. A lot of people didn’t want to fill out the forms for fear of being found out. I would ring the doorbell and you would hear people in there but they wouldn’t come to the door. One woman was clearly Hispanic and she said she was Caucasian and her mother was German. I had to write down what they said. You’re just there to write down the information. The whole thing was very uncomfortable. You have to ask all of these personal questions. Some of the people filled out the forms but didn’t answer all of the questions so we had to go and get them to complete the answers they’d missed.
Q: Do you think the numbers the Census Bureau collects are accurate?
A: In 2000 they were pretty close. I saw that they really followed up with people. They really made a big effort and there were tons of people working on it.
Q: Do you still have your Census Bureau badge?
A: Yes. I have pencils and clipboards too.
Q: Would you let someone into your house if they showed up wearing a Census Bureau badge?
A: [Silence] Umm… it depends.
Q: Really? You wouldn’t let them in?
A: Well, maybe I would.