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More than a half million temporary workers prepared today to begin the difficult and costly part of census-taking — trying to count all the people in the nation's housing units who did not mail back their Census 2000 questionnaires.
Census 2000 is the largest peacetime mobilization in the nation's history, and its largest field operation, the door-knocking and telephone-calling phase called "non-response follow-up," is scheduled to extend from Thursday, April 27 through July 7, about 10 weeks.
Non-response follow-up is supported by the third and final phase of the Census Bureau's approximately $170 million paid advertising campaign and the "Because You Count" phase of its promotional campaign. Both of these alert people to the enumerators' presence in their neighborhoods and ask the public to cooperate with them.
The Census Bureau began hiring enumerators on March 13, mostly from the neighborhoods where they will be working. Included in the qualified applicant pool of 2.5 million people were about 190,000 noncitizens, who can be hired in the tight labor market thanks to a first-time Commerce Department rule exemption announced last year. Many of them speak non-English languages needed in areas they will enumerate.
The enumerators had the choice of undergoing either three daytime or five nighttime training sessions, whichever was more convenient. About 23,000 concurrent training classes were scheduled around the country. The training, focusing on interviewing skills and how to deal with the concerns of people who may be reluctant to provide personal information, will continue through the end of the operation so that the Census Bureau can replace any workers who may leave their positions.
The enumerators will make up to three telephone calls and three personal visits to housing units believed to be occupied but for which no questionnaires have been received. After that, the enumerators are instructed to seek out proxy sources, such as a neighbor, a rental agent, a building manager or some other knowledgeable person 15 years old or over, to obtain basic data.
The main challenge of the enumerators will be to complete the count of the U.S. population within the allotted time frame while keeping down dependence on proxy data, which generally are considered to be less reliable than those obtained from a household member.
The enumerators, who carry official census badges, initially will be assigned 40 cases each. When they finish, they will receive new assignments. Most cases are expected to be assigned in the first two or three weeks.
Although most enumerators will work alone, some, faced with safety concerns, will work in teams of two each, or in daylight "blitz" operations in areas considered dangerous. The enumerators, who have flexibility in their 40-hour weeks, will work on weekends and holidays, which are considered to be good times to find someone at home.
The Census Bureau will conduct quality checks on the work of its enumerators, whose pay ranges between $8.25 and $18.50 per hour.
The Census Bureau guarantees that the answers given on census forms are kept strictly confidential. Information collected in Census 2000 will provide local area data needed for communities to receive federal program funds and for private sector and community planning.