Census workers going door to door; most people helpful, canvassers say

Census workers on the North Olympic Peninsula and everywhere else are going door-to-door to count every household that didn’t receive or send back a 10-question form.

Throughout May and June, 240 census enumerators in Clallam and Jefferson counties are hitting the streets to count the estimated 20 percent of the population that is still unaccounted for.

The U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to count every man, woman and child every 10 years. The data is used to distribute federal funds for basic services and to draw legislative boundaries.

“It’s our roads. It’s our schools and hospitals,” said Trina Bridges, a Jamestown S’Klallam tribal member who is working for the census because of “how important it is to tribes to get counted.”

“The importance of this, especially for the Olympic Peninsula, is huge,” she said, “because our economy is having a hard time.”

Believe it’s important

Paid slightly more than minimum wage, door-to-door census takers said they do it because they believe the tally is crucial.

“It’s so important,” said Jeri Bawden of Port Angeles, a retired Salvation Army worker and genealogist, of the 2010 census count.

Ron Hansen of Port Angeles, a veteran of the U.S. Marines who was disabled in the war in Iraq, is helping with the census because “veterans don’t make much money.”

Marianne Ude of Port Angeles, a retired physician, also enjoys talking with people.

“I like to meet people and get out and see different parts of our community,” she said.

Same questions as form

Respondents of the census are asked the same questions that appeared on the census forms that 80 percent of North Olympic Peninsula residents mailed back.

Households that keep a post office box instead of a mail box did not receive a form.

Census workers are allowed to make three personal visits to a given residence. If nobody answers the door, the enumerator will leave a note.

“It’s nice if they call the person back so they can set up a time to get counted because we can’t keep on going back,” Ude said.

Census takers are required to wear badges and carry U.S. Census folders. They often have tote bags showing the official census logo.

Information gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau is kept strictly confidential. A census taker who shares personal information is subject to a five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine.

When the panel of census takers was asked what the public should know about their efforts, Hansen said: “It’s easy and quick.”

“Some people are rightfully concerned about scam artists,” Ude added.

What they won’t ask

“They should know that census workers will never ask for their Social Security number, they will never ask for their credit card numbers or their bank account numbers.”

“And we always have ID,” Bawden said.

Brian Maule, Silverdale-based regional census manager, said most people are helpful and cooperative during the short in-person interview.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect process.

Elsewhere in the Silverdale region, census takers have encountered vicious dogs and naked people answering the door.

One census taker had a gun pulled on him, and another was eschewed because of her race, Maule said.

“There are always issues,” he said.

“You never know what you’re going to experience.”

The four census takers who spoke with the Peninsula Daily News on Thursday, however, reported no such problems.

‘People friendly, helpful’

“Overall, people are friendly and helpful,” Ude said.

“Most of them are really nice,” Bawden said. “Once in a while, they don’t want to have anything to do with it.”

“I had a gentleman who didn’t want me on his property,” Bridges said.

“He was obviously angry, but he wasn’t rude and he wasn’t threatening, so I just told him that somebody else would return because I was not going to go back.

“So I went to my crew leader and asked if a another person who could go. . . . Sometimes men respond better to men. Sometimes women respond better to a woman.”

“If we don’t feel safe, we don’t go,” Ude said.

There are roughly 30 enumerators working from the West End of Clallam County to the outskirts of Port Angeles. About 100 census takers are working in the immediate Port Angeles area to the outskirts of Sequim.

Thirty more are counting households from Sequim to Blyn.

Maule estimates that 80 census enumerators are combing East Jefferson County neighborhoods.

A census worker is allowed a short window of time to conduct the interview. If a worker engages in further conversation, it’s considered an unpaid break.

“Some of the folks are lonely and like to talk about stuff,” Bawden said.

“I was in some guy’s shop for 45 minutes talking about his boat,” Hansen said.

Four out of five Clallam and Jefferson County households that received a census form filled it out correctly and mailed it back, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

Highest in state

The 80 percent participation rate for both counties was the highest in the state.

“Because Clallam County has had a pretty good response rate, it may not take as long as the rest of the country,” Ude said of the door-to-door count.

Eric Davenport, senior partnership specialist with the Seattle Regional Census Center, credits the leadership of the Clallam and Jefferson county commissioners and Department of Community Development Directors John Miller (Clallam) and Al Scalf (Jefferson) for the strong participation rate.

Washington’s mail-back participation rate was 74 percent, a two-point improvement from the 2000 census.

The national participation rate was 72 percent — exactly the same as the 2000 census.

Port Townsend led the four North Olympic Peninsula cities with an 83 percent participation rate, followed by Port Angeles (80 percent), Sequim (79 percent) and Forks (72 percent).

The Jamestown S’Klallam tribe led the census-listed tribes with an 82 percent participation rate, followed by the Lower Elwha (50 percent), Hoh (46 percent) and the Quileute (28 percent).

Bridges said the Jamestown S’Klallam emphasized the importance of the census and how it affects tribal funding through its census liaison, newsletters and special mailings.

The initial results of the census will be made public toward the end of this year, Maule said. The official census data will be released in 2010.

Detailed information about the U.S. Census is available at www.2010.census.gov or 866-872-6868.


Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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