NBC News’ Joe Frayer speaks to census workers who worry that drastic cuts in the hours they work could hurt their final data set.
JOE FRAYER: Excuse me. Do you folks know how many people lived at this address on April 1?
By this month, T.J. was hoping to be making good money knocking on doors for the Census.
- I was expecting to work 40 hours a week for at least a month, ideally two months.
JOE FRAYER: Instead, he only worked 20 hours a week for two weeks.
- This is entirely disorganized and just lacks any feeling of any preparation or order at all.
JOE FRAYER: We spoke with five workers who are frustrated with everything from a lack of communication from management to glitches in this census interview app. It couldn't have come at a worse time for people who needed the income.
Some census takers fear retribution for speaking out, since employees are not permitted to give interviews. T.j. is not his real name. He asked us to make clear he's giving us his personal views. Another Census employee would only let us use her voice.
- I was collecting pandemic unemployment as a self-employed contractor, so I was looking forward to making, they told me it would be $25 an hour for enumerators in California. And I thought that sounded like a pretty decent thing. JOE FRAYER: was counting on making around $8,000 over three months of work, but then--
- I didn't hear from them from March, April, May, June, maybe three months. Three months I did not hear from the census. I definitely wanted to work for them.
JOE FRAYER: The Census Bureau has hired far fewer census takers than in previous years. In 2010, it hired more than 700,000 census takers.
But they'd only hired around 300,000 census takers by mid-August, 2020, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Due to the pandemic, the bureau stopped its field operations in March-- just one week after starting the count for most of the US. In April, the official census count deadline was extended to October 31.
The agency did not resume full field operations until June. But in early August, the Trump administration announced it was ending the count four weeks early, on September 30.
That means fewer paid hours for some workers banking on a paycheck in a tough job market.
- If I could have worked for $15 an hour starting in June, I would've made a lot more money, and it is money that I was kind of relying on.
JOE FRAYER: The census offered pay incentives to boost productivity. Workers we spoke with say the requirements were unachievable-- like interviewing nine households in one hour.
The Government Accountability Office says not enough workers and shortening the deadline pose a risk to a complete and accurate count, especially in communities of color.
LORI LIGHTFOOT: We are concerned about doing a [? count. ?] We've been concerned about that ever since we kicked our campaign.
- No! No census, no!
- There's kind of a collective feeling of, yeah, this is messed up. This is not working right and we just don't know what to do.
- Let's get counted! Let's get counted!
- A spokesperson for the Census says they hired for, quote, "what they need this decade" because of the transition from paper to more digital counting. They needed fewer census takers this year.
Responding to the specific claims of a disorganized working environment this year, the Census also told NBC News, quote, "Whenever you have that large of a workforce, there can be some chaos, absolutely, and that's part of the dynamic of working in the Census environment."