A Day in the Life of a Census Worker


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Contrary to popular belief, the job of the Census Bureau is not to find people, it is to visit addresses and learn about the people living there. Even if your address is in the middle of a swamp in Louisiana, inaccessible by roads, then the Census Bureau will send someone by boat to find you.

I am a Census Bureau field representative in New Orleans who was recently sent to an address on St. Ann Street to track down the resident(s) of a property in the gay French quarter.

No one answered the doorbell, so I found myself searching for alternative ways to find the residents. I called on some of my father’s private investigator techniques. Searching near the gated door for anything that might lead to an interviewee, I surreptitiously decided to open the mailbox in front of the residence in question, and to my surprise discovered a sign reading “All Parcels Should be Delivered to 801 Bourbon Street.”

I had a lead.

Making my way down the sidewalk, I soon found myself at a nightclub called the Bourbon Pub, whose website bills itself as “New Orleans' Largest Gay and Lesbian Nightclub - Since 1974."

Once inside, I was set with the challenge of asking a bar full of strangers whether or not they knew the person who lived at the aforementioned address. Approaching the bartender, I mentioned the address and received a double-take. To my great luck, the busy bartender in front of me admitted that he in fact lived there. Alas, he replied “no thanks” as he was uninterested in participating.

Sizing up the situation, I let my Census Bureau training in the art of persuasion kick in and decided to order something, knowing that perhaps tipping the bartender well might get him to talk. At the end of the day, my job is ultimately to get completed interviews and to find ways around people’s protestations against participation. Fortunately, despite being busy and not wanting to divulge information he felt was private, “Chris” was nice enough to answer just enough baseline questions to give me what qualified as a completed Census Bureau interview.

Admittedly, most of the interviews I do are in people’s homes and in one particular instance I interviewed a middle-aged lesbian couple. When visiting their house, I was met with resistance to obtain the interview based on one of the women’s unspecified distrust of the United States government coupled with a desire for privacy. As the Census Bureau advocates thoroughness, I was nonetheless required to return until I either completed an interview or received a definitive  “No.”

In the end, the woman who did not want to talk ended up participating. She was actually a cool person—she admitted to me her issues with the Census had nothing to do with me personally. Being sensitive to her privacy, for the survey I conducted there I neither pressed on questions regarding marital status nor income/home value, simultaneously meeting my minimum interview requirements which allowed me to do a thorough job.

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