Counting phase of census winding down with few major problems

The hardest part of counting America is within a whisker of being done.

The two-month-long door-to-door campaign to tally the 48 million households that didn't return the 2010 Census form is 98.8 percent complete, officials said Friday.

Despite mistrust of the government being at an all-time high, enumerators "found a very supportive public on the other side of the door," said Steve Jost, assistant director of communications for the Census Bureau.

"We're very pleased with the census operation as a whole, especially with the level of cooperation," Jost said, noting that the $14.5 billion national head count is about two weeks ahead of schedule and "significantly" under budget.

Resistance to answering the 10 questions on the census form drew widespread attention in the blogosphere and on talk shows, but officials say the data suggest that it was not any more prevalent than it has been historically.

"Despite polling showing higher levels of mistrust of government -- and we happened to be the face of the government at the peak of that -- we got pretty much same level of cooperation we saw in 2000," Jost said.

Gabriel Sanchez, the regional director in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, said there is always individual resistance to a census, but he hasn't noticed any organized opposition.

"It's very scary to knock on doors, and you get a lot of verbal assaults, but it hasn't been out of the ordinary," Sanchez said. "I feel that there are always people that fiercely guard their privacy, and they don't want the government to come knocking on their doors."

Crimes against workers

The 575,000 field enumerators who worked on the door-to-door count nationwide did encounter a full police blotter of assaults, traffic accidents, bad dogs and even a mean duck.

"We recorded 509 incidents of something untoward against our enumerators," Jost said.

"Fifteen of those were actual gunshots fired; 165 were threats with weapons that includes waving a knife and pulling back a shirt to show a holstered gun," he said. "We had 108 physical assaults where one of our employees was shoved, punched or kicked."

Census workers also endured 10 robberies, carjackings, hijackings or kidnappings, Jost said.

In 2000, there were 181 incidents, but Jost said the agency is now doing a better job tracking assaults.

"We don't see a pattern here at all. This is basically our work force encountering what we have in the world," he said. "There is a certain amount of crime in the country, and these robberies and carjackings are just people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's the law of averages."

Ten census workers have died during the count, including seven in automobile accidents, with three of those in Texas.

Three enumerators were slain as the result of domestic disputes. Two were off-duty, and the third, a Baltimore worker, was killed while on duty, Jost said.

"In that case, two enumerators were sharing a car ride home after a meeting," he said. "As they were parked outside a home, an ex-boyfriend interpreted that they were romantically involved, and he shot the male enumerator. The women escaped and called police."

There were also 32 attacks by animals.

A worker in Fresno, Calif., had to undergo multiple surgeries after a pit bull came through a screen door and attacked her, Jost said.

An enumerator in Utah was bitten multiple times by a duck.

"I'm not sure if it was a pet duck or a wild duck," Jost said.

Labor force contracts

With the door-to-door effort winding down, the work force has dramatically contracted.

Nationally, about 250,000 are still on the job, with about 11,500 working in 38 Texas offices, Sanchez said. At its peak, there were 84,000 temporary workers in Texas.

Hiring for this year's once-in-a-decade count was easier than in 2000, Sanchez said.

"Because of the recession, we saw more people like business owners, lawyers and pilots that normally wouldn't be there," he said.

The emphasis now shifts to quality assurance, Jost said.

About 10 million of the 120 million households tabulated will be contacted again.

"We're double-checking our work," Jost said.

Three to four million vacant homes will also be rechecked.

By the end of the summer, the big computers in the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters will start crunching the numbers.

In December, the agency will release the state and national population totals, which will be used for reapportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Texas is looking to be the big winner in that," Jost said.

Experts believe the Lone Star State will pick up three or four congressional seats.

STEVE CAMPBELL, 817-390-7981