Gated driveways were often frustrating when working the census, with very discouraging signs on them. Out in the country, “No trespassing” signs are quite common, and you don’t know how serious they are. Most homeowners are just trying to keep other people from dumping garbage on their property.
Most, anyway. I hope.
Some addresses had many case notes already on file: “Says it’s an inconvenient time.” “Refuses to do census”. “Doesn’t trust the government”. “Said I was trespassing.” “Told me to get off the property and let the dogs out into the yard.” etc.
When one such woman yelled at me through her window that I was trespassing, I said amiably, “Well, no actually, trespassing would be if I had nefarious intent or meant to steal or cause harm to you or your property. I am here on official US government business to fill out a census questionnaire for this address, so I am not trespassing.”
She groused that she had already told the last three census takers that she didn’t want to do it, and that she didn’t move all the way out on a dead end road in the country just to answer a bunch of questions from government stooges. Or words to that effect.
“I totally understand. But every ten years, it is mandated in the US Constitution that we have to do a census of who lives here and we are all required by law to answer,” I said, “You know, this address is just going to keep popping up on our lists until we get a questionnaire completed. So really the best way to stop us from coming around again and again is to just do the thing. Tell you what; why don’t we just get started and you can refuse to answer anything you don’t want to answer?”
She agreed to this, and I managed to get most of it done. Success!
One time, I lucked out when a previously inaccessible driveway was open because the postal carrier was delivering a package. I rolled into his drive and got out of my car with a big smile, joking, “Well! It looks like the federal government is very interested in you today!”
The old man glowered at me with eyes like smouldering darts. The postal carrier muttered, “I’m not federal government…” and she scuttled away quickly. Then I glanced up and saw a bunch of unfriendly “Second Amendment Supporter!” kind of signs posted on the gate. Stuck my foot in it that time, didn’t I? Him, I couldn’t cajole into doing the questionnaire, but at least he didn’t shoot me. Certainly one must be grateful for small victories.
People did have concerns about both identity theft and information security. Sometimes they would ask, “How do I know that badge isn’t fake?”
I would say, “Hey, who else would be running around the back o’ beyond on such a beautiful day wearing this fetching Census shoulder bag, eh? I gotta be legit, right?” They would laugh and all was copacetic.
At another address, a respondent said, “I figure if you’re looking to steal someone’s identity and defraud them, you’d go for somebody with way more money than me!” “Yeah, really!” I chuckled, “Make it worth my while!”
“You Poor Dear”
How wealthy a person seemed, or what condition their dwelling was in, did not correlate with how receptive they were to the 2020 US Census mission or how pleasant they were to me. It was all a lottery, a crapshoot, a flip of a coin.
Several people commented that “this must be an awful job, you poor dear”, which would take me aback. I assured them that the vast majority of people I met were perfectly nice, that I’d met lots of really interesting people and heard great stories. And I was out of lockdown, getting exercise and getting paid for it.
And many, many times, respondents thanked me for doing the job. “It’s important work you’re doing. Thank you for doing this.” Or sometimes simply, “Thank you for your service,” they would say. This would throw me off, because I really don’t think of it as on a par with military duty or frontline Covid19 hospital workers. Somewhat embarrassed, I would give an impish grin and a smart salute, and go on to the next address on the list.
Working the census actually restored my faith in the decency of ordinary people. I think it is a real shame that the extruded extremes presented on social media (for that matter, any kind of media) so color how we view our fellow humans, that the idea of simply going around and talking to strangers is considered almost worthy of hazard pay.