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Census workers improperly asked about race, ethnicity

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

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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By Ed O'Keefe  | June 15, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Census, Eye Opener  
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Your post doesn't make any sense. Why would they ask a question that's not on the form? What do they do with a response that's not on the form???

Posted by: DGSPAMMAIL | June 15, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

This just points to the absurdity of these "race" and "ethnicity" questions - these are arbitrary, fluid, and sometimes contradictory categories that the government has no business asking about.

Posted by: AnonymousBE1 | June 15, 2010 7:48 AM | Report abuse

I had no problem with telling the government how many people live in my home. I did, however, refuse to answer the questions on race - none of their business! Seems like we are more concerned now about race than we have been in the past except during the marches and the fight for civil rights.

BIG problem for me is that the census counts ILLEGAL ALIENS! The number of our government representatives and also funding depends on the census, so why are they counting people who are here illegally?

Posted by: Utahreb | June 15, 2010 8:08 AM | Report abuse

First off, get a calculator: 480 out of 48 million is one-one thousandth of one percent. As the US becomes increasingly a true genetic melting pot, the concern over race will be left to groups like the American Kennel Club and neo-Nazis. Personally, my background is French Canadian with a handful of Native American tribes represented genetically and my wife is Costa Rican--what box do I check for my kids? Yes, my kids SPEAK Spanish, but they're 12 generations away from their Spanish progenitors. So that doesn't qualify them as "Spanish." Hispanic, kind of. However, they are equally as "Hispanic" as President Obama is (self-reportedly) "Black/African American" since both have one parent who is "White/Caucasian." What would the Census worker have considered the President? The race question IS truly ridiculous and has outlived any real purpose other than as a measure for a former "white" majority to feel "threatened" by its impending "minority" status. Smile, America, you've got a new face.

Posted by: Royagui | June 15, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Its clear that some government workers are practically salivating to use 2010 census data to "prove" their anti-white ideation. When the person being interviewed doesn't say what their ethnic background is, the census taker checks a minority (e.g., the census taker who checked American Indian because an indian art object was on the wall.)They've been trained to do this.

Posted by: drzimmern1 | June 15, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Census should use this ad:

If we don't know what COLOR you are, how do we now how OPPRESSED you are?

Posted by: seraphina21 | June 15, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Respondents were asked to look at a list of races on an information sheet and pick one or more. If one did not know or refused to answer this question it was indicated as such. There will always be bad apples (or stupid employees), but they are a small number. To think some believe minority races were checked on purpose boggles my mind. Pure b.s., anti-gov baloney. drzimmern1, you are dead wrong.

Posted by: geedlea | June 16, 2010 7:21 AM | Report abuse

Luckily, I have an office job this time. ALL THE INFORMATION NEEDED is already available to government agencies thru the Post office, Medicare, the Medical Information Bureau (MIB), SS, Driver's license databases, and tax records. Plus, the government has the right to tap into Equifax, bank records, county birth and death records, verizon, AT&T, Google, Comcast, etc. etc. ANy intelligent computer database person could assemble all this on the cheap! But then we wouldn't have 600,000 workers off the unemployment rolls until November!!! First thing an enumerator does is to assure the respondent that information will be held confidential. TELL THAT to the japanese who were interred during World War 2!!! No wonder nobody trusts the government. Show me the birth certificate, and demand 9-11 truth!!!

Posted by: amillionto1 | June 16, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

The 2010 Census is a national disgrace. I am a census worker, and I have absolutely no confidence that the results of the census will accurately reflect our population. I am under the Atlanta regional census. The pressure on the temporary workers they hire is tremendous. Census enumerators, out of a sense of survival, often falsify data in order to turn in the required number of questionnaires to avoid being fired. Rumor is that Atlanta is in an informal competition with other regions to see who can finish first. So they place unreasonable demands on the temporary census workers to turn in completed work quickly, whether it is done correctly or not. Additionally, there is absolutely no accountability of census questionnaires. Census enumerators are given binders with about 40 questionnaires per binder. The questionnaires are supposed to stay with the binder until it is completed. But because Atlanta wants to be able to show immediate results, questionnaires are turned in even though the binder is not complete. So accountability of the questionnaires is lost and there is no way to tell if an address has been enumerated once, twice, or even five times. I have been to addresses where the occupants were openly hostile to me because the census had sent two, three or even four enumerators before me and had the occupant fill out the same form each time. They would shout at me to quit bothering them. We just finished turning in all our questionnaires two days ago. Atlanta placed such pressure on our supervisors to finish immediately no matter what that we were instructed to complete the questionnaires contrary to census policy. For example, in the last two days if we couldn't reach an occupant in his house, we were told to get a neighbor to give whatever information they would give and to count that questionnaire as complete. The implication was to make assumptions. For example, if you could get a neighbor to say there were two people living in a house, then you would mark the population of the house as two, and if you were in a black neighborhood (or a white neighborhood) you were to make an assumption as to race and fill in the race block. The root of the problem is the Census regional headquarters in Atlanta. It is incompetently and unprofessionally managed. I don't know if other parts of the country are run as shoddily, but I find it disturbing that such a mess could occur in something as important as the Census.

Posted by: hosocat | June 20, 2010 12:12 AM | Report abuse

It's nice to hear the rest of the US is as inundated with census takers as Kansas. I live in a small town (300) I have had 6 census takers from all over the state. The initial worker gave me my questionnaire then I received one in the mail then the workers started showing up telling me they needed to follow up on the original questionnaire they claimed was not received. BS, each questionnaire has a barcode that identifies the area and the person who sent it. In my opinion if you send 6 questionnaires you'll turn 300 residents into 1800. Some of the kids were scared they would be fired when I refused to fill out additional questionnaires. The census is a big political joke. What's the big deal with race? It's been a government program since I was a kid. The citizens don't care about your race, only the government, who created the racial problem from the start.

Posted by: wolfsheart | June 21, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

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