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Can the Census Count to Ten?


If you can count to ten or watch television, you probably know that it’s a Census year.  And if you can count to ten, you should go work for the Census – they could use you. 

I’m a little worried here.  The Census Bureau is charged with counting 300 million-plus Americans, and from where I sit, I think they’re gonna have trouble counting their own fingers and toes.

In early 2009 I applied for a job with the Census.  At the time I was living in Rockland, Maine.  I completed and submitted my Census employment application, and I scored what I thought was a reasonably decent 98 on the pre-employment test.  A few weeks after all that I moved from Rockland to Bangor, and I called the Census and informed the Bureau of my new address and phone number.  No problem, I was told, it will be taken care of.  Like a fool I believed this.

Months went by and I didn’t hear from the Census, so I decided to give them a call to make sure my address change had been duly and properly recorded.  It hadn’t.  So I tried again, and made a note in my calendar to call back a week later to make sure I had succeeded with this second attempt to change my address of record.  And so it went, week after week.  I ended up calling a total of ten times.  Seriously. 

I spoke with Kim in the Bangor office – she was very nice.  I spoke with Donavon in the Augusta, Maine office – he too was very nice.  I spoke with Don in the Bangor office – great guy, very helpful.  Or seemingly so.  I spoke with a guy in the Augusta office who said he had my file in his hand  right then, as we were speaking.  He said he would send it on that very day.  He didn’t.  Nor did he the next day.  Nor the day after that.

Bangor told me to call Augusta.  They gave me a phone number for Augusta.  How helpful!  The phone number was no longer in service.  Seriously.  The next time I spoke to the Bangor office I told them the Augusta number they were giving out didn’t work. 

I was then told that in order for them to send my file from Augusta to Bangor they had to first send it to Boston.  But of course!  I always go from Augusta to Bangor via Boston.

Finally they called me for a job interview.  After having possession of  my application for more than a year, they called to interview me at 5:10 p.m. on a Friday.

For months  I had been trying to recruit two people for a pinochle trio in my new home of Bangor, and I had finally succeeded.  We were ten minutes into the first meeting of the brand spanking new Bangor Pinochle Club at Paddy Murphy’s wonderful Irish pub and eatery in beautiful downtown Bangor, and I was three quarters of the way through a pint of Geary’s Hampshire Special Ale, the best beer brewed in the great state of Maine, when my cursed cell phone rang.  Normally I wouldn’t even have that infernal contraption turned on after 5 p.m., but I had forgotten to turn it off. 

The Census wanted to do a job interview right then and there, by phone.  You mustn’t delay, the woman warned, or she would simply go to the next person on the list.  Now there’s some enlightened personnel management.  Keep ’em hungry and pliant!  But I managed to convince  my would-be interrogator to call me back at my home, on my landline, at 7:30 p.m. 

So the pinochle club’s first meeting was a little rushed – I lost, Paula won – and I scurried home to receive my phone call.  But the Bureau didn’t call.

The next morning I went for a 14-mile walk along the bony, bonny banks of the Kenduskeag Stream, and I forgot to bring my cell phone.  Naturally the Census called while I was out walking, on a Saturday.  A return number was left on my voicemail.  The number looked familiar.  I called it.  It was out of service.

Later in the day the Bureau called again, this time to interview me for the lesser job of enumerator – the crewleader positions had all been filled by this time.  But it was not the Bangor office calling.  It was Augusta, and they wanted me to work out of Rockland – they were unaware of my move to Bangor.  The caller said he would give his supervisor  my new contact information, but he sounded decidedly uninterested in the project, and mostly he wanted to get me off the line so he could call the next schmuck.  "I don’t know if I’m in a good position to get this done," the guy said.  "I don’t know whether God himself is in a good position to get this done," I responded, but I don’t think he got my humor.

The next day I got another voicemail from the Census.  This was from Don, a supervisor in the Bangor office with whom I had spoken previously.  In his message Don said that Augusta had fedexed my file to Boston six days before, but that I still wasn’t in Bangor’s system.  Good thing they fedexed it.

In other words, on March 16 Augusta finally told Boston I had moved out of its area.  Then three days later Augusta called me to interview me for a job, in its area.  And the day after that Augusta again called me to interview me for a job, in its area.

And these people are going to count 300 million Americans with anything faintly resembling accuracy? 

LAWRENCE REICHARD can be reached at lreichard@gmail.com



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