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Look who's hiring: the 2010 census

The bureau is offering more than 1 million temporary jobs, and it's getting an overwhelming response from highly qualified applicants.

March 14, 2009|Ben Meyerson

WASHINGTON — Layoffs may be sweeping the country, but one enterprise is hiring roughly 1.4 million people nationwide at salaries of $10 to $25 an hour: the 2010 census.

A small army of laborers will be needed to locate, count and categorize each of the nation's residents. This spring, 140,000 workers will verify addresses across the country. And in 2010, an estimated 1.2 million will take to the streets to gather information from people who didn't return their census forms, U.S. Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner said.

The bureau has received an overwhelming response from applicants, Buckner said -- more than 1 million for those first 140,000 jobs. Moreover, he's been hearing from regional census directors that the pool of applicants has been very strong.

"We're getting a very highly qualified group of applicants, people that have college degrees, graduate degrees, doctorate degrees, former lawyers, bankers, even Wall Street-type individuals," he said.

"Keep in mind that these are part-time, temporary jobs, and in these conditions, additional money where you can get it" can help.

Census workers earn $10 to $25 an hour, depending on local supply and demand. Those who work in cities generally earn higher wages, and more of them are needed because of the high concentration of people. However, some of the hardest work is done in the rural areas because homes are so scattered.

"Trying to count every single person living in the United States in a very short amount of time is no small challenge," Buckner said. "We literally have to walk every single street and path and dirt road to make sure we don't miss anyone."

Because of the nation's constantly increasing population, next year's census will be the largest, Buckner said.

The number of counters hired by the Census Bureau is directly proportional to the number of forms that aren't returned, and response rates have fallen since the 1970 census. That year, 78% of people returned their forms voluntarily. But in 2000, only 67% turned in their forms on time.

"It's a lot harder in today's world to get people to respond to the census than it was 20 or 30 years ago," Buckner said.

That lack of response means more feet are needed on the ground, Buckner added.

"We knock on every single door that didn't respond," he said.

Those feet cost money. For every 1% that the response improves, the census saves about $85 million, Buckner said.

The effect of hiring so many people will be a nice little boost, but because most census jobs will be temporary, it's not much of a solution for unemployment, said Daniel Hamermesh, economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

"You're getting what you're paying for," Hamermesh said. "It's not a permanent job creation program, but it's a little bit of extra stimulus that wouldn't have otherwise happened. . . . It's not part of a solution at all, no way."

But it is fortunate that the census is happening when the economy needs all the help it can get, Hamermesh said.

"It's a good thing the census is now, rather than two years ago, when the market was very tight," Hamermesh said. "It is some extra spending, and it does keep people off the streets for a bit."

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bmeyerson@tribune.com

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