If we had to estimate the number of American citizens who've suffered some form of humiliating failure during this recession, we'd guess 50 million. Maybe higher. We're not experts at counting citizens yet, but we think there's a high density of people just like us who have lost all pride, all sense of self-awareness and decency, that they're willing to strap on a fanny pack and go door-to-door to ask you the exact amount of men and/or women sleeping in your bedroom at night.
We're your friendly District Census Takers for the 2010 Census, and it's taken us exactly one full-recession year to give up our dreams of real, meaningful employment and join ranks with the thousands of Americans in need of a part-time government temp job.
The 2010 Census
We're fully aware that you could care less about this Census. We'll admit, it's pretty boring.
Between health care showdowns, wars, terror plots, and your run-of-the-mill Washington sex scandals, the Census is really easy to ignore. But to be fair, the Census started before all that other stuff did. It has been happening since 1790 and the Constitution requires it. Dare we say, it's more American than baseball, the Postal Service, and even the State of Alaska. (And about 36 other states, too.)
And frankly, what's more American than having a stranger ask you what racial groups you identify with and whether your children are related to you by blood, marriage, or coincidence?
We'll concede: It's sort of ridiculous that we're spending billions on a census that could theoretically be conducted via Facebook. Sadly, no one looked into sub-contracting out this massive task to Mark Zuckerberg or McKinsey. Instead, we're getting paid to go door-to-door to invade the little privacy you have left. We're sorry, but trust us, we're not complaining.
The KT Boyle and Lara Janson of a few years ago may have impressed you. We were Rhodes Scholarship Finalists, George J. Mitchell Scholars, and employed twenty-somethings. We were top graduates of Grinnell College and Georgetown University. We researched important issues like human trafficking and AIDS. We remember reading the Huffington Post from embassies in Europe and cushy little cubicles in Washington and New York. It was nice.
Then the recession hit.
We returned from our "prestigious post-graduate fellowships" to a huge reality check. Lara did cold-call sales in Spanish, emphasis on the cold. She peddled cable door-to-door in the dead of the Chicago winter, which is sure to be an outlawed form of torture somewhere. KT was a regular Fraulein Maria, working as an illegal nanny in Austria a la The Sound of Music. (She fled the country before anyone learned she was teaching Gretl Von Trapp how to play Journey on piano.)
But in April, we'll cease being unemployed freelancers and take the job that is quite possibly the best thing to happen to us since we entered the post-collegiate world. To say we were overjoyed when the Census Bureau called us last week to give us entry-level positions would be a massive understatement. Lara jumped at any chance to stop debasing herself with door-to-door sales, and for KT in rural Florida, the thought of having any job that paid more than $7.00 an hour was cause for celebration.
For some people, getting paid to ask nosy, sometimes shockingly offensive questions would be a dream job. (Unfortunately, The View isn't hiring.) But for us, this is simply a job, and the only one we could find with our less-than-marketable master's degrees in Public Advocacy and Peace and Conflict Studies.
Getting the job wasn't easy. We had to take a test developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce to prove our competency in counting and alphabetizing. In full disclosure, any 5- year-old devotee of Sesame Street could have passed the test. We only had to score a 10 out of 28 to qualify for the position, indicating that the demands of the job will be quite rigorous.
Now, before you mock us, lock us out of your neighborhoods, or go full-blast with the "GET OFF MY LAWN!" chant that is so typical of the drug dealers and NRA members we will soon encounter, please look at the human side of us. We'll be living parallel lives for the next few months, chronicling the interesting lives of our fellow Americans. Unlike some people, we actually want to meet the small group of awesome people who refuse to send in their forms out of principle or sheer laziness.
Note that this job is not a joke. We both took Census tests and one of us actually took the practice test, demonstrating that even in the worst of times, we still take our work and ourselves way too seriously.
We're both thankful for the position, but we must admit that we hated on the Census Bureau for not calling us throughout February and March. We wondered WTF was wrong with us. One of us called the office everyday. The other scoured the internet for message boards. (None exist.) When the good news finally came, we were ready for the fun.
But despite the parallel lives we've been living, there are some great differences. Lara will be chronicling the great city of Chicago. KT will be working in rural Florida. Lara will be conducting much of her work in Spanish. KT will be conducting her work in five different dialects of Tea Party Conservatism. Please, Sir, Governor Palin wants you to turn in your form.
But as entertaining as our newfound work may be, we're certain to encounter some serious issues: from migrant workers to illegal status, racial and LGBTT categorization, much of our jobs will require sensitivity to the issues that often divide America. Our jobs will ultimately force us to think about the way we categorize America, and whether it's worth the cost.
We're not totally sure what to expect, but we're almost certain we'll encounter some interesting characters on our Census journey. We hope to experience the most candid, most honest, and most ridiculous form of America. There's no category for that demographic on the 2010 form. Maybe that will change in 2020.
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