Census-takers start canvassing Isles tomorrow
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By the time they come a-knocking at the doors of residences lagging in their census duties, Hawai'i's 3,000-plus census takers will have completed some 32 hours of intensive training.
The census takers — officially referred to as enumerators — are expected to begin tomorrow on a massive campaign of door-to-door follow-up visits to the 34 percent of Hawai'i homes that have not returned a census questionnaire.
Winnie Wilson, manager of the Honolulu census office, said some of the follow-up work has already begun in the university area to ensure that Mainland students who may be heading home after the semester are counted.
At the Key Project in Kahalu'u, one of several community organizations donating space for enumerator training, some 50 census workers are spending part of their last training day today doing field work in the surrounding neighborhood.
Crew leader Warren Patrick, 54, of Kāne'ohe, said the majority of his charges live in Kailua and Kāne'ohe and, like him, are first-time census workers. They come from a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds. Among the group are students and retirees, unemployed people and those shouldering their second or third job.
"It's a microcosm of our total population here in Hawai'i," Patrick said.
The trainees have spent the past three days getting in-depth instruction for a job that is more challenging than it might first appear.
In addition to basic instruction on standards and guidelines for federal employees, the trainees learn how to conduct interviews in person and on the phone, how to avoid or defuse dangerous situations, and how to respond to any number of questions and complications they might encounter.
FOCUSING ON BASICS
Crew leader Dean Kelley, 62, said he and his fellow trainers focus on a few basic concepts to help their enumerators diagnose and solve problems.
The trainees learn not just how to help people provide the accurate count of their household — a task that can be complicated by hānai relationships, multi-generational households, and other difficult-to-define situations — but also the rationales for participating in the census. This is especially important in persuading reluctant residents to work with the census takers.
"With budget cuts and Furlough Fridays, a lot of people are beginning to realize how many programs receive federal funding and how participating in the census — aside from being mandatory — directly impacts them," Kelley said. "Hawai'i was undercounted in the last census, and those are tax dollars that we all paid that should have come back to us."
The trainees also learn why it is important to ask every question on the questionnaire, even those that seem to have obvious answers.
"It might seem silly to be standing in front of a guy and ask him if he's male or female, but we work on getting (our trainees) past these things that seem to be contrary to common sense because we need to get the exact same answers in the exact same ways," Kelley said.
'WHAT IF' SCENARIOS
As part of the training, enumerators are posed a variety of "what if" scenarios to see how they would respond to different and sometimes unpredictable situations.
"They're a little overwhelmed right now," Kelley said. "But they just need to get into the field and see what they remember. Once they get the stage fright out of the way, it's going to be fun."
Patrick said the trainees he's worked with have all been attentive and highly motivated.
"They all want to do the job correctly," he said. "They understand why the census is important and they want to help Hawai'i get a better count than last time."
Like their counterparts in other states, local census offices placed special emphasis on recruiting enumerators from within the communities they will serve. Depending on the response rate of each individual tract, some enumerators may be dispatched to areas just outside their own communities that require extra attention.
On a practical level, using enumerators from within a community limits the distance each will likely have to drive, thereby saving tax dollars by minimizing mileage reimbursements.
But the greater benefit, officials say, is that local enumerators are familiar with the territory they cover and are more likely to connect with neighbors who have yet to complete their questionnaires. This should produce better response figures.
"People see that these census workers are just like you and me," Patrick said. "They just want to do their job and provide service to their communities."