Saturday, June 26, 2010

Census Report: Baseball Bats & Cock Fights

The Washington Post published an amusing if not sensational article last Sunday about the hazards of working for the U.S. Census Bureau, replete with robberies, carjackings, rabid dogs, baseball bats and hammers.

“This is the scary season for the nation’s census takers,” it began, who have "encountered vitriol, menace and flashes of violence, been shot at with pellet guns, confronted with pickaxes and crossbows (and) had patio tables thrown their way. They have been bitten by pit bulls and chased by packs of snarling dogs. Being cursed at seems part of the job description.”

In all, the article reports a whopping 409 threats or assaults on Census workers—more than double the 181 incidents reported in 2000.

Amid the Post’s histrionics, the New York Times published its own version of the story—and in typical fashion with the new generation of subjective young reporters, its conclusion was precisely the opposite: “Despite fears of hostility toward the federal government, incidents involving census workers have been relatively few,” the Times said. “Since April, the bureau has logged 430 incidents against enumerators... Ten workers were robbed, one was bitten by a duck and another by a rooster.”

Mind you, I have dealt with my fair share of aggression since I began working for the Census Bureau in February—but nothing that’s created such overt fear that I’d run like a baby to file a report. I’ve had doors slammed in my face mid-sentence, heard “fuck the government and fuck you,” folks standing on the other side of the door literally telling me “no one is home” as soon as they hear the word “census,” and plenty of haughty doormen who wave me away dismissively, despite the fact that it’s federal law that they let me in.

Come on people! Grow a spine, laugh it off, use common sense, be resourceful… and stop whining. Granted, I’ve avoided a duck attack, but are we really such a delicate society that every time someone tells us where to go, it requires a paper trail? I’m damn happy to have earned a living for the past four months; a few “fuck offs” aren’t about to deter me.

There’s a guy who said in the Post story, “There’s so much anger and bitterness with people losing their homes and their jobs. They’re not too fond of the government.” I get it. I lost my career job in the midst of a gruesome economy—but less because of the fed’s shortcomings than a shortsighted corporation whose bottom line was more precious than the quality of its product.

You’d think the pepes pointing fingers at the government would recognize that temp Census staffers are in the same boat: displaced American brethren who also lost their jobs and are scrambling to stay afloat as hourly employees.

In any case, I thankfully hang on with my ever-evolving role here in Brooklyn—this week marked four solid months of employment—currently aiding Quality Control to follow up on unfinished and suspect cases. Just after July 4, a whole new operation launches, where my local census office will hire yet another round of new staffers to verify much of the work of the previous crew of more than 700, whose results were apparently spotty enough to mandate a re-do. If I’m fortunate, I’ll be called upon for service, since I was on call as a floater during that entire previous operation. At the time, that felt mighty tentative; now it could be my saving grace.

One precious day at a time. That’s really the best any of can hope for, isn’t it?