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  • Writer's pictureBy Alex J. Rhowuniong

Working as a census taker is not easy

They brave the heat and face up to pit bulls. Such risks come with census taking. Another difficulty encountered by enumerators is the anxiety of knocking on strangers’ doors, especially when household members become unfriendly and hostile.

Taking census is not exactly a fun job, and the unpleasant experiences contribute to the factors that cause some enumerators drop out. Hence the need for a continuous training to replace those who quit, according to independent contractor Mike Levin.

Data collection for the 2019 Guam Census of Agriculture, already underway, will run through June. On its heel is the Household Income Expenditures Survey (HIES). Delayed from last year, the Agriculture Census began last month and is about a quarter of the way done, Levin said.

census taking

“Our plan is to continue until June with the Census of Agriculture. HIES is (now) underway,” said Peter Barcinas, program leader at the University of Guam’s College of Natural and Applied Sciences.

“Typically conducted every five years, (Agriculture Census) was last collected in Guam more than 10 years ago due to budget constraints,” stated a press release from the US Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Services.

Levin said all of the 250 farms on Guam will likely participate in the census. However, this has pushed back the HEIS project a little bit also.

Ideally, however, all censuses should have been done in April right around tax season because everything is still fresh in people’s minds, Levin said.

Also helping with the project is Yapese Census on Guam, which will also start soon. So, there will be three projects going in the field, overlapping at some point.

The former member of the U.S. Census Bureau said the difference between these projects is that Yap project is a census of all Yapese on Guam.

“So Agriculture Census and Yapese Census are censuses,” added Levin, “HIES is a survey, and it’s voluntary; the Agriculture Census is required by law, and the farmer could be fined if he/she does not respond.”

If you are a farmer who has not been visited, you may expect a phone call followed by a personal visit from professionally trained enumerators to collect important data that will assist you and your farm in the future.


“Local agencies and organizations use the data (collected) for a wide range of purposes, including to provide more effective production and distribution systems to the agricultural community. And to justify the claims of farmers who suffer damages and losses due to natural disasters,” stated a brochure from the UOG CNAS.

Results will be available in the summer of 2020 through your local USDA office, UOG library, other government offices and online at

Levin said he was originally asked to come to Guam in January to do just HEIS. But there were a lot of delays until late March when things started moving.

Then Agriculture Census came up. So he and his team of enumerators have been dealing with such project first.

The former senior census trainer for Harvard University said he is very proud of his enumerators from the Federated States of Micronesia, working all three projects.

“I have an excellent team of Micronesians working for me here,” he said. “These guys are very professional and very competent.”

The team includes Hidei Mori from Chuuk, Jomer Manongsong, Nukuoro (Pohnpei), and Lenny Saumar, Eauripik (Yap).

Being an enumerator, Levin added, is not easy. He himself tried it only once. He does not want to do it again. He now sticks with his desk job, formulating questionnaires and crunching the numbers.

Census workers, Jomer Manongsong (Nukuoro, Pohnpei) and Lenny Saumar (Eauripik, Yap), reviewing the digital survey questionnaire once more before heading out into the field. Photo courtesy of Jomer Manongsong.

Enumerating for one census or survey is difficult enough. But doing three back-to-back is very hard.

One of the most common challenges that causes a high turn-over for enumerators is the stress heaped upon them. People think enumerators are scam artists, Saumar said.

“They would ask on phone: ‘How did you get my phone number?’” Saumar said.

He was only a couple of weeks on the job and had already gotten five suspicious farmers asking the question.

But that should not be the case though. There have been a few of these censuses and surveys done on Guam already. People should know by now. But as it is, Guam residents still do not.

That’s why enumerators appeal to residents to please help out to make the whole experience bearable, if not a bit pleasant for both parties.

Enumerators also said community members must also understand that as they knock on more doors for the household survey and the Yapese census, they are just trying doing their job; and, certainly, not trying to be rude and intrude.

Unfortunately, their job for HEIS requires them to ask all kinds of questions – contained in 26 pages—some of which are going to be very personal. They’ll include questions about your buying habits, whether you bought a cell phone within the last six months, a wide screen TV, or a truck.

Whether you took out a loan recently, how much money you make from your job, or even how many babies have you ever had.

Are you renting, are you sending/receiving money to/from the other islands?

These are personal but important questions needed to collect accurate information.

Now, after asking you these questions, enumerators will finally leave with you a shopping “diary,” so to speak. In it, you will record all you’re going to buy on a daily basis for one whole week. After that, they’ll come back and collect it.

What’s in it for you?

Plenty. The information collected could be used for policy planning, research and other purposes – that will involve decisions affecting you and your whole family.


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