Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Census-centered afternoon...

Last week, I put action behind the notion to get involved in the Census. The Census is so central to much of what urban planners do, I had an interest in working to some extent in the effort - long before the local brouhaha - and my work flow was such that I had the time available. I called the local office, scheduling an appointment for this past Monday. There was some back and forth message leaving, but someone does eventually get back to you. The local number of the Census office is 561 207 7930.

They told me to go to the Trinity Church on Military Trail, south of Hypoluxo, at 1 p.m. They made a big deal about bringing the required identification for completion of an I-9 form and that you could go on-line to get an application. They said it was a good idea to complete the items before, but that it would still take some time to process everyone that was attending at that time. They indicated that the test would be given then and there. There were sample questions that you could check out as well on-line.

I show up Monday around 12:30 p.m. and the location turned out to be in temporary buildings in the Trinity Church parking lot. I entered one of the nondescript trailers and the room was filled with people sitting anywhere they could in the small room. Most were at a series of four or five long tables, others in waiting room chairs and others standing in line. The ones in line, it turns out, were waiting to have their local code determined, based upon where they lived. This was not at all clear what was actually going on at the time, but those that were already there (and very early for a 1 p.m. appointment) told the rest. Once you met with the representative to determine your code, you were given a folder with an I-9 form and an application. This whole process took about 45 mins from the time that I entered the room.

It was clear that the Census representative seemed overwhelmed at the number of people in attendance (from all over Palm Beach County) and expressed frustration that so many had been told to be there at that particular time and location. He expected about 20 and there were actually 35 that ended up staying the entire afternoon.

After that, a very tedious process began where everyone had to individually approach the Census representative with their proofs of identification. He had to certify each document on the I-9 form. If there was a discrepancy in some document, it took more time. This process took about 1 hour and 15 mins.

By 3 p.m., we went line by line through the application form so that people could check their filled out forms to see if they were correct and so that others could fill theirs out if they hadn't done so before. There were many questions from the group during this process - which took about another 45 mins. We then took a break and gathered back in the room to take the exam.

The exam is 28 questions and you have to get at least 10 correct in order to pass. I found it a bit tricky and you really have to be thorough and deliberate in reading the instructions for each question and looking at all of the four multiple choice answers. Skills necessary for the Census to be sure. I had enough time to finish, but others I could tell felt rushed and some did not finish all of the exam. The representative determined immediately after the exam was finished who passed and who failed (five did not pass from our group.) Those that passed were told as we left that we would be "in the pool" and would be getting a call later in February, subject to our background checks going through and we would be given instructions on what to do then.

Once you are in, a couple days worth of training is given at various times during the week or on weekends. You are paid for your time in training. Emphasis was placed on the fact that this is mostly a self-paced, temporary, part-time job that may last three or four months at the most. Most of what we would be doing would be the collection of Census information at doorsteps.

If your schedule allows you to take part in this effort, I would encourage you to do so as it is one of the important foundations of our representative democracy. I'll keep you posted on what happens from here on out.