So, what, now I have to wear the pearls? …
Seeking Familiar Faces to Draw Out Those Who Have Not Sent in Census Forms
By SAM ROBERTS
Published: April 8, 2010
She would be, in the ideal view of the Census Bureau, the proverbial elegant, engaging Manhattan matron who can effortlessly cajole her way past the most imperious doorman, personally confront apartment dwellers on their threshold and persuade them to complete the 2010 census form.
“We do not require you to wear pearls, but if you live locally, you will have access and be accepted,” said Marilia A. Matos, the associate director for field operations for the Census Bureau.
For all the contrasts among them, Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and the Upper East Side, immigrant enclaves in Brooklyn and Queens, dusty border counties of South Texas, isolated resort areas in Minnesota and Indian reservations are among the toughest places in the country both to find residents who have not returned their questionnaires and to recruit census takers charged with pursing them.
As of Thursday, the New York City census tract with the lowest mail response rate — 17 percent, compared with the citywide rate of 50 percent — was 14 square blocks bounded by Fifth and Park Avenues and East 49th and East 56th Streets. The tract was home in the 2000 count to 279 people. It includes several buildings with large numbers of foreign and other part-time residents, including Olympic Tower, Park Avenue Place and Trump Tower. (For the record, Donald Trump said he had not received a questionnaire; if the bureau or the postal service missed you or your building, you can get a form by visiting 2010.census.gov or by calling (866) 872-6868. And, beginning Monday, you can complete the questionnaire by telephone.)
In 2000, the mail return rate in that tract was 26 percent, less than half the citywide average.
On Wednesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Stacey Cumberbatch, the city’s census coordinator, again appealed to New Yorkers to mail in their questionnaires before the April 15 deadline.
By neighborhood, the participation rate ranged on Wednesday from 31 percent in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to more than 62 percent in Inwood, Stuyvesant Town and northern Washington Heights in Manhattan and in Clearview and Oakland Gardens in Queens. The highest rate of any smaller tract was 80 percent in Todt Hill on Staten Island.
While Manhattan below 96th Street usually has a better-than-average response rate, it is among the more challenging places to recruit census takers, or enumerators, as the Census Bureau refers to them. Another hard place to recruit enumerators is northwest Brooklyn, with its mix of public housing projects, gentrified brownstones and apartment buildings.
More than a million tested, trained, fingerprinted and paid enumerators will fan out across the country in a few weeks to find millions of residents who were mailed census forms last month but did not respond.
The bureau’s strategy is to hire their neighbors. “It’s crystal clear that if you hire locally, you save money and get better data,” said Robert Groves, the director of the Census Bureau.
“We have areas around the country,” Mr. Groves added, with “populations that disproportionately have criminal histories.”
In New York City, the bureau expects to hire as many as 1,000 enumerators for each of the city’s 18 census offices; they will be paid $18.75 an hour or more. In some Manhattan neighborhoods, the hourly rate might not be enough to lure unemployed lawyers, much less society matrons, so the bureau combs community boards and civic groups.
“In rich areas, believe it or not, what happens is the traditional civic participation and engagement ethic kicks in, where people view this as an opportunity to give back,” Mr. Groves said. “They’re not volunteering. They’re getting paid, but they’re not doing it for the money.”
Enumerators are told to visit each residence six times before giving up.
“This is not a 9-to-5 job,” said Lester A. Farthing, the New York regional census director. “New York has the longest commuting times in the country. People get home 8 or 9 o’clock in Elmhurst, Corona, Flushing, where people are working two or three jobs. We tell people to try until 8 or 9 p.m. if they can reasonably knock on a door without disrupting a family.”
There are tips for finding people at home. “One of the tricks we teach is look for window guards for children,” Mr. Farthing said. “You hang out between 2 and 3 p.m. and see if any kids come home.”
And persuading New Yorkers to let a stranger in is not easy.
“On Park Avenue, sometimes you get a retiree or that person who has the pearls who can talk their way past a doorman,” Mr. Farthing said. “Sometimes,” he continued, “you need a man to enumerate a man or a woman to enumerate a woman. Sometimes an African-American might not talk to a Caucasian who comes to their door in Fort Greene.”
“A face that looks like the face behind the door,” Mr. Farthing added, “works like a charm.”
“Good Article leaves Upper East Side Census Crew Leader with Bad Taste in Mouth…” April 10, 2010
So, what, now I have to wear the pearls? …