Census 2010: Do you have what it takes to be a taker?

It's the start of the decade, and that means the U.S. Census Bureau is posting fliers everywhere, looking for temporary, part-time help to ring doorbells and glean data. Pay starts at $16.25 an hour in Denver, considerably less in Grand Junction ($12.50) and Pueblo ($11.00).

You'd think in this economy, there would be no shortage of applicants, but recruiting is reportedly more difficult than usual this year. Perhaps it's a sign of a deepening erosion of the skills required to be an enumerator -- some basic math, logic, reading and comprehension, as well as an ability to file stuff properly. I recently came across a practice test, and while it wasn't exactly the MCAT, it did require you to pay attention.

Here's a sample:

12. Census takers are told to use any person who owns or rents the housing unit as the "reference person" and then to list the relationship of every household member to the "reference person." When an enumerator interviews at 1105 Low Street, he talks to Mr. Sanchez. Mr. Sanchez says that Mr. and Ms. Morales own the house and all three are household members. Who should the census taker list as the reference person?

A Either Mr. Morales or Ms. Morales B Mr. Morales C Ms. Morales D Mr. Sanchez

15. Ms. Jones can't remember the year of her birth but she knows that she was born in the month of September. If it is now May 2010, and Ms. Jones tells you she is 78 years old, in what year was she born?

A 1931 B 1932 C 1930 D None of the above

26. Each county is divided into a number of census tracts. The tracts are, in turn, subdivided into blocks. Groups of blocks within a tract are then combined into Assignment Areas (AA).

Which of the following shows the four geographic units discussed above, in order of size, from largest to smallest?

A county, tract, AA, block B county, block, tract, AA C county, AA, tract, block D AA, block, tract, county

Of course, soaring through the test doesn't mean you're prepared for every possible challenge an enumerator might face, from households run by polygamous sects to the tedium of filling out government mileage reimbursement requests. And there's always a chance of encountering somebody like Hannibal Lecter, who once ate a census taker's liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Me, I'd hold out for combat pay. And yes, the correct answer in each case above is A.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast