Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 10, 2011

U.S. Census – I’m Counting On Something More

This Census Bureau map depicts the locations o...

Census Map (2000) –  Native American reservations and population stats

As I have numerous times in my adult life, I am looking for work again. So be it.

Meanwhile, to complicate things, I got a call from the U.S. Census Bureau the other day, asking if I wanted to take a qualification test for a Field Representative position, to do surveys. This call came about a year and a half after having taken the original test and put my name in for the many Big Count positions they were filling in 2010. The caller, a woman, explained almost apologetically that this particular housing survey, and its start date, and maybe whether it would even be conducted, were all contingent upon acceptance of the federal budget and the portions proposed for the census bureau. Reluctantly, I agreed to register for the test.

The test was today. I showed up on time at Glenview’s fancy new public library. I listened to another lady’s spiel about what the positions involve (they are seeking not just phone surveyors, but the walkers and interviewers who go to designated areas and complete face-to-face interviews). And about two-thirds of the way through the explanation, I decided it wasn’t for me. The reasons, mostly logistical having to do with the high likelihood of evening and weekend hours when I wouldn’t be able to see Graham, are not that important. It was my overall dread of bureaucracy that put me over the top… and out the door before taking the actual test. (And no, I did not just bolt. They encouraged those who were unsure to get out now.)

Now, the census bureau does a lot of good. Don’t get me wrong. Unemployment data, crime data, hunger and human services figures, education data, all kinds of information is collected by them during non-Big Count years. But something set off an alarm in my head today: the mild confusion the testing officials had about how to streamline today’s testing and mock interview process, the reality that the division’s activities are something of a political football, the depressing prospect of seeing real people’s difficult lives up close and not being allowed to have an opinion about such things. It just felt wrong for me. 

At this point in my life, when hope and good news are at a premium, who wants to be the objective reporter of a whole lot of bad news? Especially when that same government ties its own hands when it comes to changing the bad news to potentially good news. I’d rather work for the nonprofits, NGOs, churches, those who are doing the actual work of change, even if it is on a shoestring budget.

Heck, I’d rather deliver pizzas than measure unhappiness and economic recession figures. At least people would be happy to see me at their door.


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