Expect nudity! And other things they teach you at the Census Bureau
Wed, May 12, 2010 (4:11 p.m.)
If Hank Nalbantoglu takes one thing out of his stint as a Las Vegas census taker, it would be to keep your head up. Especially when a guy answers the door naked.
“I think the guy got out of the shower. Or maybe he was a nudist,” says Nalbantoglu, who was mentoring a trainee at the time. “I told her, ‘Just focus on the face.’ And we talked to the guy for about five to six minutes, got all his information. When we were done, I said very politely, ‘Anything else we can do for you?’”
Nudity. Blind rage. Passive cooperation. Census-takers (their official title is “enumerator”) are told to expect it all and adapt accordingly. But just a quick note to that fringe contingent of our society, the one that sees the census as a government-sanctioned invasion of its privacy: Enumerators such as Nalbantoglu and Caitlyn Boyd aren’t intimidated by you. They’ve been thoroughly vetted, fingerprinted, tested and sworn in for life. The information they carry with them is highly confidential property that is to remain secure at all times, under penalty of a $250,000 fine and five years in prison—or both. Trust us: These people have a lot more to lose than you do.
Nalbantoglu and Boyd say the job allows them to put their social skills to good use. Nalbantoglu says the key to being a good enumerator is passion: “Their faces changes a bit when I tell them I’m from the census, but when you go in with a big smile, the person becomes a bit softer. If they scream and yell, you kill ’em with kindness. If I have anger, it’s all over.”
Nalbantoglu and Boyd have both canvassed 70-80 homes since mid-March, and they say their work has been productive—only 1 or 2 percent refuse to give information or answer the door or are otherwise unresponsive. Most homeowners, they say, just forgot to fill out their form or mailed it in too late and are not on the books yet. But there are wackos out there, to be sure.
“A lady in her mid-40s—very well-dressed, in a gated community—was kind of hostile to me,” Boyd says. “She claimed she’d sent in her form and that me being there was a violation of her constitutional rights. She told me to get off her property, but I kept asking how many people lived there. She said ‘Four! Now leave!’ But we still need to go back for more information.”
Mid-40s will be revisited, but not by Boyd. Mike Donahue, a media partnership assistant with the bureau, says whenever an enumerator meets a subject face-to-face, the second visit will be by the crew leader. If a third face-to-face is required, the field operation supervisor goes. In all, enumerators try to contact a homeowner up to seven times—three visits, three phone calls and one more visit, after which neighbors are asked for information.
Through it all, Nalbantoglu stays flexible. “This one hostile guy said, ‘You’ve got three minutes.’ I got it done in two minutes and 40 seconds. And if I see big dogs, I just pet them.”