ABOUT 4,400 census takers have fanned out across Long Island to interview residents at 420,000 households that either did not return their census form or were not mailed forms to begin with, as the 2010 Census operation continues.
Nationwide, 635,000 census takers are to visit 48 million households between May 1 and July 10. On Long Island's East End, census takers have been going door-to-door to about 96,000 households since late March, a process scheduled to end later this month. The field operation will continue in other parts of the Island after that. The Census Bureau decided to interview residents on the East End instead of mailing them census forms because many residents receive mail at post office boxes instead of at their home address.
Here's a look at three East End residents working as census takers - all earning $18 an hour, plus 50 cents a mile for travel.
"It's been a very interesting experience. . . . Just seeing the government at work, so to speak, completing one of the constitutional mandates," said Christensen, a former American history teacher. "I've been impressed with how it's moving along."
Christensen found most of the 200 or so people he's interviewed in person or over the phone were willing to answer the census questions. He said a few feared government intrusion - "Big Brother" watching over them - while others were reticent because of identity theft concerns, which he counters by noting the Census Bureau's confidentiality rules.
Christensen said he appeals to people's sense of civic responsibility, telling them: "If we don't have the population count out here, you lose [political] representation. Being counted properly out here has a lot to do with funding that comes from . . . the state and federal government. It's a very, very important thing that we're doing and we have to get it right."
Elizabeth Schumacher, 47, of Speonk, works full time as a real estate agent in Westhampton Beach. The mother of a 7-year-old, she also works full-time as a census taker in the evenings and on weekends.
"I decided to be a census taker because I had moved here from Florida in January and I thought it would be a great way to learn the area, meet people, learn the demographics about the community that I'm working in. I've done just that. It's been a terrific way to get to know people."
That has helped her as she seeks to establish herself in the real estate business here. Even though she now has a supervisory role as a census crew leader, Schumacher said she continues to go out into the field. So far, she has traveled to about 150 to 200 homes in the East Hampton, Bridgehampton and Remsenburg-Speonk areas. One gratifying benefit: She's recognized at her local coffee shop.
"I feel so much more a member of the community by doing this," Schumacher said. "If I could do this for free, I would have. I've met so many terrific people."
Joyce Kelley, 78, a retired registered nurse at Southampton Hospital, has lived in Eastport all her life. Her role as a census taker is in quality control, where she follows up with a percentage of households already visited by a census taker.
"Almost everybody, right at the beginning, will say, 'I went through this.' They're a little edgy," said Kelley, smiling. "But once you explain to them why we're there - that we're just doing spot checks to make sure we have the correct information - they sort of melt. And I'll say, 'It'll only take 5 minutes.' They're really OK then." And she says she always tells people how much she appreciates their cooperation.
She thinks her age works in her favor. "They don't seem intimidated with me. It just seems most everybody is welcoming." And she enjoys her encounters.
Kelley recalled how one family didn't open the door when she first knocked. When she approached the house a second time, preparing to place a visitation notice on the door, a woman opened it and called out to someone inside, "It's just a little old lady."
"I thought it was so funny," said Kelley, laughing.