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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

No Shortage of Applicants for Job That Counts

March 22, 2000|GINA PICCALO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thousands of Ventura County residents have applied for jobs with the U.S. Census Bureau to help track down people who don't return questionnaires--a surprising response in light of low unemployment and the agency's past recruiting troubles, officials say.

Census officials chalk up the response to a yearlong recruitment campaign, which this month alone has prompted hundreds of job seekers to apply for the temporary positions at local census offices.

Seven hundred workers--known as enumerators--will be needed to complete the head count in Ventura County.

More than 5,000 people have qualified to become enumerators, but recruiters say they need at least 1,000 more applicants because a large number who apply drop out before the six-week effort begins April 27.

"We need everyone that we can get," said Howard Rivera, assistant manager of recruiting in Ventura County.

The past year's recruiting campaign cast a wide net, including efforts at schools, churches and social clubs. A massive advertising campaign also has helped boost awareness of the 2000 count, census officials said.

The jobs pay $11.75 an hour. Workers must pass a basic skills test that gauges competency in English, math and map reading. They must also prove U.S. citizenship and pass a criminal background check.

Licensed drivers with a car are in high demand, and candidates with high test scores will be selected first, census officials say.

Those most qualified are hired within three days of passing the test and must attend training sessions to learn how to work with the public.

If possible, enumerators are assigned to their own neighborhoods to ease the concerns of people intimidated by the survey. Groups that require especially sensitive care, such as the homeless or battered women living in shelters, are allowed to nominate an enumerator from their groups.

"Our bottom line is how can we best reach the people," said Rosa Martinez-Sotelo, a regional census worker. "We don't badger. We don't take the census there. We just encourage completion."

Encouragement begins with a phone call, followed by up to three home visits between April 27 and July 7.

On a recent afternoon, the Market Street recruitment office in Ventura was humming with activity.

Newly hired census workers organized data on several disposable desks, made of heavy-duty cardboard, in the lobby of a vacant unemployment office.

In another room, seven people--including a retired police dispatcher, a college librarian and a homemaker--completed application forms and tests.

Most described the job as an easy way to make extra money and an opportunity to become more familiar with their communities.

Grace Roman, 41, a merchandiser from Port Hueneme, helped out during the 1990 census and reapplied for this year's count. She hopes to rally her community to complete the survey to bring needed government funding to her neighborhood.

"You're there to better the system," Roman said. "That's how the government gives out grants. For me, being Hispanic, that's important."

Lisa Conley, a 31-year-old Oxnard mother of two, is looking for full-time work as a secretary, but was looking to make some fast money.

Others, like 70-year-old retiree James Lytel, wanted the chance to be active.

"I wanted to keep busy and get outside," said Lytel, a retired dispatcher with the Claremont Police Department. "I like to make contact with people. And this will give me a chance to get to know where things are."

Ventura County workers are paid $2.25 less than their counterparts in Los Angeles County and $1.25 more than workers in Santa Barbara County. Wages vary according to population size and per-capita income, Rivera said.

FYI

For more information on joining a census team call 650-2170 or check online at http://www.census.gov/jobs2000.

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