By Leon Locke and John C. McLoughlin
Billed as the census that will count almost everyone, the 2000 census is fast becoming a lesson in how not to conduct a census.
Disgruntled workers, poorly trained supervisors, and political appointees in it just for the cash have led to widespread charges of mismanagement and poorly trained workers. In addition, some of the workers are questioning the work ethics of their supervisors.
Examples uncovered by The Wave include the fact that people who were hired as enumerators, and told they would be retrained as crew leaders and supervisors after a few weeks on the job, are still waiting. Other enumerators were told they would be working 30 to 40 hours a week and are finding themselves waiting at home to be called for a five hour work day (if they are lucky). Yet, still others, those who seem to be "connected", are working the full week or overtime.
The Wave received numerous complaints of favoritism and mismanagement at the Woodhaven office, which is responsible for the Rockaway count. According to several census employees, a "chosen" few have been "sent to the most desirable places, making the most money by stretching their time, taking extra long lunches and getting paid for it." These workers have alleged that Denise Harper, office supervisor, is responsible for these actions. "Harper is purposely keeping only a few out of the 60 or so trained enumerators on the job because if too many are working it would take away from the money she and her chosen ones can make," said a census employee close to the operation. "Let me explain how this works. They have a weekly budget to adhere to. If she puts too many people to work, then she wouldn’t be able to put in for the daily overtime and night differential overtime that she has been claiming and keep the budget balanced."
Harper responded to these allegations by telling The Wave it was "not true…things happened before me." Harper said she "can’t address it" because she was not permitted to speak with the media.
Despite the fact that there are already many trained enumerators and crew chiefs, as of this week training for new employees is still ongoing.
In some areas crew chiefs are leaving work as early as noon and being told to "sign out at 5:30." Still other crew chiefs are being hired and some of those called for the position are not even able to drive from site to site as they have no vehicle (a requirement for the job).
Reports such as this have been coming in from Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties to The Wave.
"The amount of money spent on training, retraining, and training extra personnel who then get five hours a week in work is ridiculous" said one employee of the Census Bureau. "They would have saved a fortune and been better off if they sent every family a $20 bill for filling out the census forms and mailing them back."
Meanwhile, many employees who had hoped to catch up on bills or save some extra cash were still sitting by their phones waiting for those elusive phone calls.
Mismanagement is the least of the problems. Census workers have expressed concern that supervisors have required them to fill-in information on the forms, even if it’s incorrect.
"We’ve been told we can’t leave the forms blank…we must fill in info that isn’t necessarily correct," a census worker told The Wave.
Early problems in the "special places" and group quarters (e.g. nursing/adult homes, colleges, etc.) count were visible when a fairly large crew was sent to a yeshiva to count heads of the students that were living there. The problem was that hardly anyone was present as the students had all dispersed for the Passover holiday. Some traveled as far away as Israel and were not counted.
In another count, a crew of about 10 or so swarmed in on a senior living center expecting to interview those living there, only to be shunted to a side room and told to "look at the rosters and you will find everything you need." After being placed in this side room, they were abruptly told by management they would have to leave as the room was needed for something else, and the crew was forced to retire to a local pizzeria to finish their work. "We were told to fill in the missing information based on what we knew about the location," said one census worker on the scene.
At a local drug rehab center, census workers were told to use rosters to take the count. Hispanic clients at the center were all designated as "Puerto Rican", even though there were other options, including "Mexican", "Cuban" and "Other". Supervisors of the Census Bureau mandated this action.
One census worker of Latino heritage was offended by this requirement. "What are they saying…that all Puerto Ricans have drug problems. It’s not right."
Since the census determines distribution of monies based upon the count, having incorrect or false information could prevent money from being targeted to the needed communities or groups.
"I have been hired to lie," said one census worker. "I’m being used as an accomplice."
One census worker said she was told by supervisors to "make-up" a race if it wasn’t known. In more than one instance, several census workers sat around discussing if a name "sounded like it was a Caucasian person or an African-American person."
Walter Mudu, a spokesperson for the Census Bureau, said these procedures are "not the norm" and "will be looked into immediately." When asked if these problems could result in an inadequate count, Mudu said, "Queens has the largest differential. We expected a 63 percent return in Queens, but at this point there has only been a 52 percent return, with dismal numbers coming from Southeast Queens."
Readers that are familiar with other nonsensical doings of Census 2000 are encouraged to contact The Wave and share their stories.