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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More Census Questionnaire Hilarity

As I have been reviewing enumerator questionnaires for correctness and consistency, I have come across quite a few noteworthy ones. Most of them pertain to choices people make for themselves (especially when it comes to the question about their race). But a few of them seem to indicate that some enumerators are either too tired and sleepy, or too confused to make commonsense decisions and choices!

First, the issue of race. The census questionnaire has a separate question asking whether a person is of hispanic/latino origin, and if so whether he/she is from Mexico, central America, or some other hispanic place. The census questionnaire specifically states that hispanic origin is not considered a race for census purposes (most hispanics are white). Race choices include White, Black, Chinese, Japanese, American Indian, Asian Indian, etc. There is also a write-in choice for the race, and that is where the hilarity starts.

There seems to be intense confusion in the minds of both enumerators and the people they are interviewing as to what constitutes race and how it differs from national origin, nationality and other related concepts (including skin color and religion). Here are some of the answers I have found written in under race in some of the questionnaires I have reviewed:
  • Hispanic
  • Latino
  • Hispanic Latino
  • Mexican
  • Polish
  • German
  • German-Sweedish (not just German-Swedish, mind you!)
  • Italian
  • Romainian (this is what you turn into when you eat too much Romaine lettuce, I guess!)
  • European
  • Columbian (not Colombian. Maybe the respondent graduated from Columbia University, I don't know!)
  • Light Brown
I also saw one questionnaire which listed 6 household members. All but one of them listed their race as "Asian Indian". The last one was a young child, probably born in the US, so its race was written in as "American"!

And then there are the notes that enumerators take on the forms (I am not sure what happens to these notes when they are scanned into the computer, whether they are retained in the database or thrown out eventually). The notes are supposed to add explanation to the actual contents of the form if the contents are likely to be confusing. And they can also be used by the enumerator to track their visits to an address, note down phone numbers to call for more information, and so on. But some notes have just left me shaking my head in wonder and amazement! Some examples of notes that (at least to me) were humorous, weird or otherwise noteworthy:
  • Left side railing wobbles (why this is relevant to the census bureau will be an enduring mystery to me!)
  • Respondent refused to answer questions. Said he was a Korean citizen and so, should not be counted
  • Lady answered over the intercom and said she lives alone with big dog. Left on vacation and is not back yet (this form had no other information on it, but the population at the address was filled in as 2! You may think this was a simple mistake, but the enumerator has to fill the population in once on the first page, and once again on the last page of the questionnaire, and this enumerator had put down 2 in both places!!)
  • Neighbor said 3 people live in this house: mom, dad and 2 kids (I guess one of the kids was not as big as a big dog, and therefore does not count!)
The other thing I have noticed in my reviews of these questionnaires is the astounding number of parents who don't know their own children's birth dates! And it is not restricted to older children either. I have come across several forms in which the child is listed as being of age 0, with a birth year of 2010 or 2009, but the respondent (who is usually one of the parents) does not know the actual birth date! And there seems to be an epidemic of people who don't know their own birth dates either (in most cases, they know their age, but not their actual birth date).

And then there was the questionnaire in which the respondent listed a roommate/boarder as one of the household members, but did not even know the person's name! Not just the last name, but the entire name was listed as not known!

Census work, I have realized, is an amazing source of eye-opening human revelations! I may end up tired and sleep-deprived at the end of my temporary employment with the census bureau, but I will not lack humor or laugh-out-loud moments! As an office clerk with a mostly mind-numbing job of checking questionnaires against a checklist, it is not too bad!!

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