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Census workers can't enter your home without permission

Sandy Smith's picture

Readers of former U.S. Rep Bob Barr's (R-Ga.) blog "The Barr Code" at might be forgiven for believing they can. After all, the headline on his May 26 entry flatly states, "Census workers can enter your apartment in your absence." But it just so happens that this flat statement is flat-out wrong.

Barr's blog goes on to state that census workers can demand access to individual living quarters to count residents and collect statistics, and that any owner, landlord or agent who refuses to grant that access can be fined $500. Citizens, he adds, can also be fined for failing to answer the "increasingly intrusive" questions on the census.

The only true statement in the above summary of what Barr wrote is that the fine for failing to cooperate with the decennial census count is $500. The rest of the summary, and the blog entry itself, is either twisted out of shape or grossly exaggerated.

The section of the Federal law governing the census does state that landlords and owners must give census workers access to apartment buildings, hotels, rooming houses, and similar facilities (including gated communities by inference), or provide the names of residents inside them, upon request, with a $500 fine for any owner who refuses to do either. The law does not permit, nor does the Census Bureau instruct, census workers to enter apartments or other dwellings in the absence of the inhabitants. In fact, census takers are trained not to enter residences even when the residents invite them in. The fine -- $25 at the time of the first census in 1790, $500 now -- is almost never levied against anyone.

As for that "increasingly intrusive" Census form: The 2010 Census mail-in questionnaire is the shortest in several decades -- only 10 questions -- and the questionnaire administered by enumerators who visit addresses in person contains only two questions more. In either case, the whole process takes just 10 minutes -- hardly an onerous burden. The "long Census form" of past decades has been replaced by the annual American Community Survey, which asks a sample of the public for more detailed information about their residences and habits.

And lest anyone worry about this information getting into the hands of the police, the IRS, immigration officials, or an overzealous insurance salesman, the law also forbids the Census Bureau from disclosing any information that might identify an individual for 72 years after the completion of the survey. Any Census employee who discloses, or even leaves lying about where an unauthorized person could view by accident, any material that could personally identify someone is fired without recourse.

In short, Barr's characterization of the census and the people who administer it couldn't be more wrong. How do I know this? Because I am one of those enumerators currently knocking on doors all across America and have been trained in the proper procedures, a process all Census employees must undergo.

Written by Sandy Smith


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
So now we have the word of one anti-Census individual who might have misinterpreted bureau policy and one from a Census shill who takes a paycheck from the bureau.

Submitted by Sandi Bird on
Great article. I can't believe that Rep. Barr was that off in his understanding of Census regs! I wanted to add one thing. It would be good for people to know that there are also Quality Assurance workers out there who are rechecking (correct me if I'm wrong) 5% of the original addresses. So if one of your readers gets another knock on the door asking the same questions, it's only a 2 minute process for the QA visit. I have a friend who does QAs and bears the brunt of a lot of people's anger over repeated contacts. They're just doing their job...

Submitted by Jack Biglinson (not verified) on
I was visited by census workers multiple times over the past 2 months, each time they asked to enter my apartment as well as asking more than ten questions. In fact, they've asked more than 10 questions every time I've talked to them. This includes three additional phone interviews with me.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Census data isn't truly protected, all it takes is a legislative vote to turn that data over to any government agency. How do you think they knew where to find Americans of Japanese descent in order to inter them during the second world war? They used census data. Do you truly believe that history will never repeat itself?

Seeing as I am a Census employee that has been working with the decennial 2010 Census for over a year, I can speak from some experience. I have a form sitting right in front of me, and I can tell you exactly what it asks. Depending on which stage of the Census you are in, though, will affect the form that is used by the Enumerators. The first form is mailed, it asks you to provide a list of the persons living at that address at the time of the Census (Census Day is April 1st) and it asks for age, marital and racial information for those persons. It does not ask for work, income, or other information. If you did not get one in the mail, or if you needed a new one, there were several thousand QACs (Questionnaire Assistance Centers) around the country where you could get a "Be Counted" form. The only difference between those forms was that you had to enter your address on the "Be Counted" form, and it asked if you were filling it out for everyone in the household. That question was in case, say your brother-in-law was living with you, but you didn't put him on the original D-1 form. You or he could fill out a "Be Counted" form in order to make sure he was counted in the Census. There were "Be Counted" forms in 5 languages other than English. If your form was not filled out, or received by the Census office, then an Enumerator was sent to your house to ask the questions on the form. They are instructed not to enter people's houses due to safety concerns. The questions they are are the same as were on the mailed form. They also ask for a phone number, so if your case is chosen as a QA case, a simple phone call will be able to get the QA completed. If a respondent is uncooperative, the Enumerator will attempt to get the information from "knowledgeable" sources, IE a neighbor, a landlord, etc. While you are at risk of being fined for not cooperating, and a D-225 INFO-COMM will be written about you, Enumerators are not there to fine you, they just want the information and will try to get it from a neighbor. If your case is randomly selected to be a QA case, it is nothing against you. Out of all the cases where an Enumerator has had to go out, the Census must do a Quality Assurance follow-up interview on 5% of the cases. These follow-up interviews are there to check the quality of the original interview, to make sure you and I are not paying for a Census worker to sit at home and make stuff up. We want to make sure they were there and got the correct information. Most of the time this is just a two-minute process. The QA Enumerator will ask to speak with the Original Respondent (The person the first Enumerator spoke with) they will make up to six attempts to reach that person (Three on the phone, and three in person) before trying to locate another knowledgeable person. If they can reach the Original Respondent, they ask if the OR was recently interviewed by a Census employee. They also ask if anyone lived there on Census Day, they ask if it is an everyday living quarters, or if it is a vacation home. Then they ask how many people live there. Assuming they have reached the OR (Or a member of the household that verifies that an interview has already been conducted), they then only have to ask for the names of the people staying there. They do not ask all the other questions. However, if the QA Enumerator cannot locate the OR, the OR says an interview had not been completed, or the OR refuses to cooperate, then the QA Enumerator has to find another "knowledgeable" source and conduct a full interview about the address the OR had been interviewed on. If you cooperate, you will spend a maximum of 15 minutes talking to a Census employee. If you do not cooperate, you will be "harassed" by multiple people trying to get the same information from you. Anyone that has had issues with the Census could have avoided them by simply mailing the form in, as required by LAW. Be thankful that the Census is no longer conducted by US Marshals, as it was done for the first couple of decennial Censuses. US Marshals had more authority and refusing to cooperate could cause a lot more problems for you than it will now. Now you just get a headache.

The people with Census experience are all identified here, while the anti-Census people are all "Anonymous" and/or Unverified. The only one with a name is not listed in any phone book, and cannot be found via that name on the internet. I'm going to call bogus. At least if you are going to open your mouth, have the courage to not hide behind fake names and Anonymous.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Jedidiah, Part of the reason the "Anti-Census" people may be "anonymous and/or Unverified" is because we know history, and do not trust Big Brother, whoever the current President may be. We have a long history, as a nation, of imprisoning people whose only crime was being the race or nationality that was considered to be "on the wrong side" at the moment. As someone mentioned before, Americans of Japanese descent were rounded up and imprisioned, using Census information to find them. Inexcusable flouting of the law? Use of Census data for improper purposes? Perhaps, but in the case of an "emergency", many times laws are flouted and ignored. President Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel has been quoted many times saying, "... never let a serious crisis go to waste". President Roosevelt probably felt justified, due to the crisis of Pearl Harbor. Does that make it right? The ineptitude of our Federal Government gives me no solace for the concerns of my privacy being protected. There are plenty of stories of data being mishandled, laptops being stolen, and private information being misused by those we "trust" to protect us, both in government positions and in the private sector. I have no problem giving the count of people living in my residence. That is what the Census was created to do. I understand the relation to the representation in Congress, and even the amount of pork which could be sent back to one's home district by showing correct population. That's why I sent the form back, with the total of residents, before the deadline. I am an American citizen, with X number of residents in my home on the date in question. The additional information is none of their business. The government (at all levels) has way too much information on me as it is. Besides, if an Enumerator has to come back out... numerous times... it keeps them employed and off of the burgeoning unemployment rolls. Think of it as my way of helping provide a little Hope and Pocket Change to the economy. =)

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