Working on Census 2010 gave me a revelation: a government job could be a higher calling than a private one. In government jobs, we work directly for the common good, while in business we’re producing primarily for personal profit.
Yet, government jobs and workers have an image problem. The jobs are often seen as wasteful and the workers are branded as lazy, going-through-the-motions payrollers.
I may have been a payroller but I didn’t milk the government for undeserved cash. Not so much out of honesty but because I’m not very motivated by money. (George Bernard Shaw said this is an Irish characteristic). But, if cash doesn’t inspire, why should we do a good job?
Well, we could really be concerned about counting all the people, so a community would be eligible for needed funds. Or, we could care about doing a good job out of personal pride. I was more like an addict, trying to score a “C-I” every time I climbed a flight of stairs.
C-I stands for Conducted Interview and it’s the object of desire for census workers. To get C-I’s, I knocked on windows, tried doors and rang every bell. I checked every backyard, garage and alley. When I found people home, they often claimed they had sent in their form. I persuaded them to complete another. Others told me they didn’t speak English, so I’d whip out the questions in Spanish.
Ideally, we were supposed to complete four C-I’s per hour. So, I probably set a census record when I finished 23 C-I’s in the first four hours I worked. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without the cooperation of the people I questioned.
They not only gave me answers, I received bottles of water, a can of pop and some tasty tacos. One questionee even sharpened my No. 2 pencil. The next time out, I got another 23 C-I’s, which could be a week’s work for some enumerators.
Now, I sound like I’m bragging – so let me continue. I hit a high of 24 one afternoon and all it cost me was the use of my legs. They were so stiff from going up and down a three-story apartment building; I could barely walk to my car.
In addition to wearing out my legs, I supervised seven workers and met with my census boss every morning. We considered Cicero a tough community to count. But Forest Park was no cakewalk. I learned this from an enumerator, struggling to complete my block on Beloit. I helped him complete four of his C-I’s by informing on my neighbors.
I’m glad I found a divine calling in census work. Going cold turkey on C-I’s, though, I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next 10 years.