Census workers improperly asked about race, ethnicity
Federal watchdogs say dozens of Census workers last month incorrectly asked people about their race or ethnicity for the 2010 Census by asking leading questions or making assumptions about a person's background.
The more than 600,000 temporary Census Bureau workers hired to visit households that failed to return census forms are instructed to read aloud the ten questions on the form (about the number of people living in a household, their ages, race, ethnicity, etc.) when conducting interviews. But 71 workers incorrectly asked the race and ethnicity questions, according to a new report by the Commerce Department Office of Inspector General.
Some census workers would ask respondents questions such as, "You're Spanish, right?" according to auditors reached Monday. In one case a worker checked a person's race as American Indian without asking because they observed an American Indian-style motif hanging near the doorway, the auditors said. The mistakes were not limited to a particular region or urban or suburban neighborhoods and occurred as auditors shadowed workers to about 1 percent of the 48 million households that did not return a census mailer.
The mistakes violate Census policy and in limited circumstances could contribute to incorrect reporting on the racial or ethnic background of a certain area.
"The OIG observed 480 interviews out of the 48 million households we must visit," Census spokesman Steven Jost said in an e-mail. "The Census Bureau has taken corrective actions where appropriate."
But auditors said agency took action only after they reported the mistakes, meaning other workers also may have incorrectly quizzed respondents.
Despite the mistakes, the Census Bureau has completed about 93 percent of its in-person followup interviews.
"We are somewhat ahead of schedule and certainly under-budget," Census Director Robert Groves reported Monday on his blog, adding that "this is a testament to the fine skills of our field staff for the 2010 Census."
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| June 15, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Census, Eye Opener
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