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Census Bureau begins hiring an army of counters

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Students and the census
The Census Bureau will add about a million jobs to the economy nationwide -- about 8,000 of them in Minnesota.
Jim Mone/AP

Census workers will soon disperse throughout the country in the decennial effort to count heads, determine congressional representation and federal funding to the states.

By hiring an army of counters, the Census Bureau also will add about a million jobs to the economy nationwide -- about 8,000 of them in Minnesota.  And while some of those temporary jobs have been filled, the big hiring boom is still underway.

Arguably, the most well-known census job is the enumerator, the person who will come knocking on your door if you haven't returned a census form by April 1.

Delacy Thomas wants one of those jobs. She knows that census figures help divvy up federal funds and she wants to make sure Minnesota gets its fair share.

"They talk about the importance of counting everyone," Thomas said. "I've got some time, so why not help making sure that everyone is counted."

The reason Thomas has some time is because she was laid off from her job as a chemist at 3M last year. Working as an enumerator will allow her to make some extra money while figuring out her next career move. Starting pay with these temporary census jobs is about $15 an hour. If hired, Thomas will be able to set her work hours.

"I like the fact that it provides some flexibility while I'm still considering what I want to do and find the right opportunity," she said.

Acooa Lee
Acooa Lee volunteers with the census as part of her sorority work.
MPR Photo/Toni Randolph

High marks on a written test are required for all census jobs, so Thomas and another woman attended a review session for the test last week in St. Paul. Accoa Lee, a Census volunteer, gave them a practice version of the basic skills test and a few tips for doing well.

"The questions do get harder as you go along," Lee said. "You have 30 minutes to answer 28 questions.  So if you get to one that's giving you some trouble, skip it because you may need that time on the back end."

Then she started a timer to give the women a sense of what it will be like to take the actual test.

The sound of pencil to paper was nearly all that could be heard for the next 30 minutes as the women took the multiple choice test.

 If they do well on the actual test, they may be one of the estimated 8,000 census workers who will be hired in Minnesota this spring. These are temporary jobs, but they will still be a boost to the state economy, state economist Tom Stinson said.

"It will make the state's economy look a little bit stronger in the short-term than it otherwise would have," he said.

In a small office building on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, the city's census office is buzzing.

Callers are directed to the testing sites near their homes and given the testing schedule. The Census Bureau is looking for people to work in every neighborhood in the city, said Bill Davnie, manager for the Minneapolis census office.

Bill Davnie
Bill Davnie is the local Census office manager in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Toni Randolph

"We want people to be knocking on the doors of their neighbors," Davnie said. "We want people who know the areas, who know who's around them and will be welcomed."

The census bureau expects to hire more people than actually needed since there's already been some turnover. Crew leaders and field supervisors are being hired in addition to enumerators.

Most Minnesotans likely won't get a visit from their neighbor the enumerator. That's because Minnesota has one of the best census response rates in the country. However, households that don't return forms can expect a census worker to come knocking after April 1 -- the day census forms are due.