As a social scientist I live for Census data. I thrive on Census data and I wait with great expectation for the next round of Census data releases. I use the data to qualify and quantify my research findings and Census data is surely the basis of the validity of most of my study findings.
But until this week I didn’t really understand that the Census is not just a form we return in the mail or a data set on the Census Web site. There are Census workers who risk life, limb and dignity to ensure that social scientists like me have access to this great resource.
So the situation is this. I have a big, old, incontinent rescue dog and she needs walking several times each day. On a recent walk in my neighborhood at 7 pm, I met a young man with a huge backpack. He looked hot, tired and frustrated. I saw his identification tag and asked if he was a Census worker. He said yes and then we talked about his interesting findings and challenges in our neighborhood. I shared my goals to work for the Census in 1980 but that I got a better job in health care administration. We talked about how working with the Census could build his career and his understanding of our society and ways to make life better. I showed him (using my IPhone) how I link to Census Web sites and access the data. We tried out finding some answers to his questions about race and educational attainment.
I offered my new friend some water, but he declined and said that was against the rules for his job. He thanked me for the support and shared that he had been in our neighborhood several days. My neighborhood was especially difficult for him since so many of the residents had not sent in their surveys by mail or did not have easily recognizable addresses. I bid him well and my big old dog and I moved on.
That is the good part but the situation gets worse. A few houses down on my walk, I met a neighbor calling the Sheriff’s department and reporting a young black male checking out the houses on our street; my neighbor thought the young guy was a “potential home invader.” About the time I offered to my neighbor that this young guy was a Census worker, the Sheriff’s Department arrived with blue lights flashing. We worked it out and our Census worker young guy did finally accept water and some time on my front porch.
So the Census data that we take for granted as social scientists has a cost for the in-field data collectors. Census data collectors deserve our respect and support. As social scientists, here are some questions to consider. Did you respond to the Census form by mail? Are there Census workers in your neighborhood and how can you help them? Finally, do you take the Census data for granted?
About the Author: Cathy Slade is a postdoctoral
research associate at CSPO and CNS-ASU.