Census Lady- Any body home?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm doing the Enumerator position with the US Census here in West Oakland. Of course, I am NOT going to talk about any particular street, or place, or people. I will be careful to honor my oath.
West Oakland has been one of the most under-reported areas in the US for the last few rounds- only 32% of household had responded by 4/6, compared to 60% for the rest of the nation. We have streets where 95% of the households did not turn their forms in. I'm on the NRFU or Non Respondent Follow Up team- we go to the houses and areas where people have not reported in, and get the count.
These are NOT happy areas to be walking and talking to people. The poverty and crime rates are high, the homeless rate and evictions and boarded up houses are rampant. I laugh that the City of Oakland advertises where to buy drugs and booty- those HUGE signs that have tons of small print saying that drugs and prostitution will be prosecuted- but the only words you can read are DRUGS and PROSTITUTION as those words are about 10 X 's bigger than the small print.. what were they thinking?
SO- I know I'm walking in crack and meth and homeless areas. I know I'm walking up to houses where people may well be tweaking like mad, paranoid from their drug use. I know there are plenty of deaths that occur on the streets where I am walking.
SO- I'm out there, giving as much love and respect to everyone that I meet as I can.
I'm walking, and when somebody stares at me I holler 'Da CENSUS IS IN DA HOUSE!', and get big grins back. I go through gates up to houses, and I'm singing, and hollering 'hello the house, it's your neighbor hood census lady!' at the top of my lungs. I stood outside one house where I knew they were home and sang 'open up the windows, open up the doors, open up the windows, open up the door, open up the windows open up the doors, and let your census lady in!" I tell people who frown at me that they can shut up my singing by talking to me.. that I don't have to have any scary info, just the basics, that we in West Oakland NEED THE MONEY! I talk corns on feet, and politics, and weather, and chat at the people on the stoop, and disarm them with affection. I can rant with the best about our economy, and the need to have change, and how we can get change.
And I get the info.
I never assume that because a house is boarded up that it's empty. I observe, and chat, and talk with the neighbors, I will stay hours on one block to get the job done. I get lied to, get ignored, get the evil eye... but I get the information. Sometimes, the people in the house are too scared to talk to me. Sometimes, I get a piece here, a piece there, and end up bundling the info onto the form. One person will tell me 'oh, he's a mean man, you don't want to go there'. So, to the next one I say, 'that mean man, how old do you think he is?'... to the next one, I say- that 40 year old mean man- is he Chinese?' and get -'no, he's Mexican'- 3 parts! 3 Parts of the questions! Then, sitting on the stoop, chatting with a neighbor, I say- 'dang, that mean Mexican (or whatever), how long has he been scaring the kids in this neighborhood?... or 'when did he get that pit bull? And that gives me how long. Like that. Stealth, observation, paying attention, weaving all the parts together, I get the information. So, sometimes- it takes 6-12 people to get the right info.... cause some of them won't admit that ANY body lives ANY where- they won't even agree a place is vacant when it's boarded up. Now, that's one scary attitude toward the census.
I got a family yesterday- I had thought that this 5plex that was boarded up had squatters- first a woman unlocked the gate, and entered, telling me 'oh, I'm just visiting them'- to watching Dad and 4 youngsters going in... with groceries.. oh, yeah, a vacant place, sure. Finally got 4 people sitting on their steps to say, "9 Mexicans"- about a boarded up, condemned location.
I'm proud of what I'm doing. I feel like I am the right person, at the right time, doing the hard work to get the count.
$1,400. a year for 10 years per person- that's $14,000. over 10 years difference to my community for each person that I can get counted. My much loved home. YES- there are wonderful neighbor hoods in West Oakland, and lovely people who smile to see the census... but heck, my crew won't send me there. They know that I care about EVERYBODY- and will fight to get every person counted in the worst neighborhoods- so that's where they send me. I got the training during the homeless night- so they are using that training. This week, I'll be going to the places that no one else could get... cause they trust me.
There is lots of paperwork to be done, to be sure the office people know what I did- there is lots of looking up stuff on the Internet, trying to be efficient- but I am out there 5-6 hours a day, standing, walking, going up and down and up and down and up and down stairs- oh, those lovely Victorians. I'm beat every night from all the walking, standing, and stairs.
Good thing I was doing 4-8 miles a day of walking before I got this job!

(picture from
Any body home?
if you want to see the stats in a newspaper format...
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    You go girl! Thanks for doing an awesome job.

    (Oakland gal, too)
    3642 days ago
    Mare, you're doing more than taking census numbers, something much more. You are treating everyone with dignity and respect. That's pretty uncommon in some parts of the world, including the places where your hard working feet are taking you. Thank you for paying attention.
    3659 days ago
    Mare, the places you talk about sounds like where my grandbaby lives--in the 'hood. I can sooooooooo see you working your way through there. I bet you ROCK!
    3660 days ago
    Looks like your doing a very commendable job, you got guts, I was faced with a very suspicious crowd at one time in Chicago south, real scary . I think I would just try to get a count , you can guess on the nationality.

    3663 days ago
    Good for YOU to be doing such important work! I thanked a census worker I ran into the other day while out Nordic Walking...made his day! :-)

    3663 days ago
    Census is just the count- no judgment, no looking for illegal anything... just the count. Do you usually and normally live here? You count. Like that!
    Being sure that a 'vacant' place is 'vacant' is hard... gotta have the dates.
    3664 days ago
    Humor goes a long way, doesn't it?

    I'm a fellow NRFU ENU, working on the north Oregon Coast, mostly counting empty vacation homes, in the rain. It's amazing how picky the Census is about documenting empty houses. Sheesh.

    I don't envy you your job. I would love for all my griping co-workers to read your post.
    3664 days ago
    Wow! you are totally rocking the house girl!
    3664 days ago
    Will you be my census lady? I always appreciate a friendly, singing visitor. How does the census handle immigrants who don't have official papers, I wonder. Do you know?

    3664 days ago
    Truly, that Midwestern gal in you is a huge gift to the Bay Area. Nothing like midwestern friendliness and down-to-earthedness! You are just plain for real. And people see it and appreciate it. Keep on keepin' on!
    3664 days ago
    Very, very good for you...and for the Census....and, most of all, for West Oakland. Keep on keeping on!

    emoticon emoticon
    3664 days ago
    Hey, I am with you, I am a CLA in NYC. Keep up the good work, you rock!
    3664 days ago
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