My Experience As a Census Worker

Journalist for The Guardsman, Tim Hill takes a break out from his road trip for a FaceTime portrait session. Oct. 22, 2020. Indiana. Photo by Kevin Kelleher/Special to The Guardsman.
Journalist for The Guardsman, Tim Hill takes a break out from his road trip for a FaceTime portrait session. Oct. 22, 2020. Indiana. Photo by Kevin Kelleher/Special to The Guardsman.

By Timothy Hill

uilleanner@gmail.com

As I checked my census bag for what seemed like the tenth time before boarding the 38-Geary bus, a mix of excitement and frustration my mind was.

For most of this year, I had waited to get my confirmation training date for a position I applied for back in January. March 24 it’ll be, they told me. Then April 1. Then sometime after June 18, we promise you. As the days of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown melted into one endless day, I felt that my first day at this position might never come to pass. 

Once it finally happened, my census work was primarily in Outer Richmond, since that was my old neighborhood and where I had lived when signing up for the job. I also worked in the Marina, Presidio, Cow Hollow, and Pacific Heights districts. Although the latter four districts are generally comprised of some of the wealthiest and educated people in the city (perhaps the country), I still experienced a fair amount of suspicion and hostility when I came to enumerate them.

In Pacific Heights, much of this occurred in enormous apartment buildings where I only had to talk to one or two residents. It seemed like the only person they had ever let in was a postal worker. So many people thought that I had just printed my government-issued census ID myself, or that I was part of a private firm out to steal information. 

It was almost as if these people never had heard of a census, had no idea what it does or what it means, or that it’s been 10 years since the last one. 

I would attribute the majority of this suspicious, irrational, and fearful behavior to the machinations of the Trump administration and his hell-bent attempts to confuse and sow doubt about the census so that mass swaths of our nation’s population go uncounted. The point person for this is Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, as the US Census has been considered an appendage of the Department of Commerce since 1913, according to the US Census website. 

Perhaps it isn’t at all surprising that the 2020 census was nothing short of a disaster, to use a favorite word of Trump himself. 

From the sheer lack of communication between census field managers and enumerators to the constant changes in personnel to having to wake up each day with barely enough work for a full eight hours, working the census under the Trump administration was enough to make my blood boil each day. 

It was all I could do to not hear his voice and see his face in my mind, knowing his fragile ego and evil racism were the sole drivers of this horribly managed affair. I got a real taste of this when I was sent to the Reno, NV area for a week, and spent a lot of that time enumerating out in the rural Nevada desert in 100-degree heat. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, but it was a terrible occasion to be there in it.