Counting People and Taking Names

By    Published May 21, 2011

Counting the millions of New Yorkers who call the city their home is not easy – just ask workers who helped with 2010 Census. Summing up numbers is not the only mission they faced. Between debating the value of the census with government-wary skeptics and helping non-English speakers fill out census forms with an interpreter, these workers jumped through numerous hoops to do their jobs efficiently. Now, with the final numbers in, they have some stories to tell.

The tales paint a picture of the way New Yorkers think, act or react to the process, and how the census workers reacted to those they counted.

Stacy Horn, 54, a former census worker, spent her days calling job applicants with the happy news that they were hired.

“It was like being Santa Claus everyday,” she said. “I had people break into tears when I said, ‘You’re hired.’ This woman was crying and she said, ‘I haven’t worked in a year.’ I would hear people screaming and dancing in the background, because they were just so excited to have a job. A lot of people had been out of work for a while.”

Facing Hurdles

Elizabeth Zimmer, 66, had less positive things to say about her two months with the census.

“You were going into buildings – luxury buildings – where everybody who worked in the building was sworn to secrecy, and not allowed to give out any information about any tenants,” said Zimmer. “So after you had exhausted the legitimate routes of getting into an apartment and even leaving a note, then you had to sort of sneak around.”

She said she worried about being denied access to certain buildings she was assigned to check out – something that has prevented other census workers from getting an accurate count of people within the buildings.

Many of these stories, however, have stayed under the radar partly because census workers are prohibited from disclosing too many details of their work to the public.

All workers sign a confidentiality agreement, meaning they cannot legally speak about people’s personal information, or what happens behind the scenes at the U.S. Census Bureau. This has discouraged some workers from sharing their interactions with New Yorkers.

But one 24-year-old census worker, Daniel, decided he’d share his stories providing his full name was not used. However, his experience working for the census was very positive overall.

“There were a number of really great opportunities for interpersonal connections,” he said.

The six census workers below each share a snapshot of their own experiences. Click on each sound clip to hear their stories.













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