The decennial US Census has its employees try to contact a household six times (see a quick summary of their procedures here). But the Problem Solver in the Chicago Tribune presents a case where a Census employee working on the American Community Survey (ACS) irritated a Chicago couple:
The first few requests were tolerable. A Census Bureau worker would knock on John and Beverly Scott’s door and ask them to fill out an American Community Survey. The McKinley Park couple would politely decline.
But as the days passed, the visits became more frequent and the requests more urgent.
Some evenings, the doorbell would ring at dinnertime, then again at 10 p.m…
Scott said the requests had become so repetitive and annoying, the couple began pulling the old “out-of-candy-on-Halloween trick.”
“I work afternoons, and I’m not home,” Scott said. “My wife has to sit with the lights off because she doesn’t want to be bothered.”
Often, even that doesn’t work.
“They knock and knock and knock and ring and ring and ring,” Beverly Scott said. “Knocking longer is not going to make me answer the door, and it’s not going to help if we’re not here.”
The final straw, John Scott said, was when a Census Bureau employee told him he would be fined $2,000 if he did not fill out the 48-question survey.
When contacted by the Problem Solver, the regional ACS office said the couple would not be fined (though the government could do this) and they would stop trying to contact the couple (and they did stop).
Surveys that pick out samples that are representative often will work hard to contact the initial respondents. If they can’t make contact or get a response, then they move on to other people who might fit what they are looking for, adding time and resources that need to be spend for the project.
Interestingly, the couple in question also notes that although they filled out their decennial survey, they are not interested in filling out the American Community Survey because they see it as too intrusive:
But they’re not too keen on the American Community Survey, a more in-depth, ongoing questionnaire the Census Bureau conducts to compile information on area demographics, consumer patterns and economic issues.
In particular, the Scotts did not want to answer questions they found too personal, such as inquiries about their income, when they left for work and their health.
“The new questionnaire has gone way over the line,” Scott said. “We have told the representative that we are not going to answer private questions, but they continue to come to our door at all hours of the day and night.”
There were occasional reports of people who felt the same about the 2010 decennial census with some suggesting that a Census should only gather a head count and no other information. But in the future, the US Census has suggested that the ACS will play an increasingly important role as the government looks to collect more frequent data. As the story suggests, the ACS data is important for determining “the Consumer Price Index and how federal funding is allocated.” Rather than waiting every 10 years for a more comprehensive counting, the ACS provides more up-to-data that governments (from the federal to local level), researchers, and the public can utilize.