My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Census Bureau Press Office Responds To Our Controversial Jobs Post

Last Monday, we published a controversial post about the length of Census Bureau jobs, which we learned from a Census Bureau insider are often-times over-stated. Our question about this issue to the Census Bureau’s public information office was initially met with a very vague response. However, yesterday, we received an elaborate response from Stephen Buckner, who runs the show (so-to-speak) when it comes to the suits of Suitland dealing with the press.

(Here’s my best description of Stephen in one sentence: Picture Aaron Eckhart’s character Nick Naylor in Thank You For Smoking, but change all of the mumbo-jumbo about cigarettes to the Census Bureau.)

The following is the unabridged response from Mr. Buckner:

The length of time a temporary census worker may be employed depends upon the time frame in which they are hired and the operation taking place at that time.

The skills needed, and number of staff required, vary across our numerous operations in the massive undertaking.   The single largest operation is Non-Response Follow-Up (door-to-door enumeration) from May through July with hiring and training in April.  Over 600,000 persons will be hired for this operation, however the precise number is dependent upon the share of households that mail back their census form in March – April.  We would like nothing more than to be required to hire far less than our planning goals because far more households mailed back their census forms than we have witnessed in prior censuses.

Our hiring process has to recruit a large pool of applicants so that we are prepared for a range of response rates across the entire country.  We know from experience some areas will need many more workers than other parts of the country and we are using historical data to help be prepared for these variations.   Other major operations for which we recruit temporary employees include the Update/Leave operation, (the hand delivery of questionnaires to 12 million housing units in March), staffing Questionnaire Assistance Centers from Feb 26 to Apr 19, staffing Be Counted Sites from Mar 19 to Apr 19, and staffing Telephone Questionnaire Assistance from Feb 25 to July 30.

The Census Bureau builds a recruiting pool of applicants in order to have readily available and qualified workers for all operations.  These individual operations take place over a number of months, but people are not hired to work from start to end on all operations.  Most jobs last only a few weeks, and sometimes less if there is not a large workload in a particular area.  It is difficult to explain these complexities in a brief recruiting message or advertisement, especially in this economy.  During our interview and training process, we try to stress that we are not hiring a workforce to be in place from beginning to end of all of our operations.  The length of time temporary employees may serve is also dependent upon the efficiency of the total workforce in any given operation or location.   If we recruit and hire a more experienced and qualified workforce that completes tasks at rates higher than projected, then they are likely to be employed for shorter periods.

Our regional and local census offices monitor recruiting at the census tract level in order to make every effort to recruit from the neighborhood where the work is to be done.  In the 2010 Census we are able to focus in on those hard-to-recruit tracts because it has taken less effort to recruit in the other tracts.   We’ve never done such detailed tracking before in prior censuses.

Most 2010 Census jobs are temporary and last up to several weeks.  It is correct that some jobs will last 8 months.  This refers to management positions in Local Census Offices which began opening last fall.  However, there are far fewer of these positions in comparison to field jobs described above.

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10 Responses to “Census Bureau Press Office Responds To Our Controversial Jobs Post”

  1. Techy Says:

    …How is this mumbo jumbo, or spin? This is nothing like Eckharts character from that movie.
    It’s a concise, pretty complete answer to how the employment policies work.

  2. Kris Says:

    I concur. Those who require a five-word reply to a complex situation are asking for something that’s not possible. As Buckner states, UNTIL the forms are returned (or NOT) there is no way to know how many people will need to be hired… nor to know how efficient any of the workers will be or how the public will respond….all are important variables as to the hiring process and predicted length of employment. If they have to return several times to a location to find someone to interview, it clearly takes longer than if everyone miraculously happens to be home and fully cooperative.

    Having put 2010 census hiring on a ‘Google Alert’ and thus seeing nationwide new reports daily from hundreds of publications and websites ( such as this one) I can report that much of the confusion seems to be attributable to muddy and just plain erroneous reporting by the various media. In this case I DO suggest ‘shooting the messenger” might be a better exercise than Census-bashing, since what comes out of any media event is often a modern version of “I have a Secret” where participants pass on a ‘secret’ and by the time it gets to the last person it is hugely inaccurate and distorted.

  3. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Techy – I didn’t mean it in a negative way. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Thank You For Smoking is one of my all-time favorite films. Stephen has the job of cleaning up all of the messes that are made by the 2010 Census. To be clear: He’s not a lobbyist, but a liaison from the press office. And with that job, a certain amount of ability to spin a situation in one’s favor is required. Though I sometimes disagree with his answers, to my knowledge he does his job, very, very, well…just as Nick Naylor does in TYFS! – SRM

  4. Jack McNutt Says:

    I do work for the Census as a recruiter and I have to agree Mr. Buckner. I was initially hired last Nov (2009) as a recruiter assistant for a building a pool of qualified applicants for the address canvassing (verifying every residential address in the United States. As that job phased out I was again hired to be a crew leader for the addressing canvassing. Six months after that job was completed I was rehired, again, as a recruiting assistant to recruit and test applicants for the next phases of 2010 Census. Mr. Buckner was correct in that the length of jobs vary because of the area and the quality of workers. Believe me, I have learned a tremendous amount about ‘census taking’. It certainly is much more than just going out and counting heads. And I agree with Kris (above) about the mis reporting as I have noticed the same way by Google Alerts. Even the BBB doesn’t have it right when they are describing what a census taker (enumerator) look like and what they will or will not be carrying. The best source is the U.S. Census Bureau. And not lower than the regional census offices.

  5. jim Says:

    is the census killing people? tyfs is about a guy who makes his living advocating for an industry that kills people.

  6. Bill Says:

    I was hired for the UL operation and we finished early. While the job was supposed to last till the end of March, we had 3 days of training, about 9 days of actual work and it was over my March 8. The funny/sad part is that the job was over before I even received my first paycheck. I was told by my crew leader / FOS that we will be assigned work in the next upcoming weeks.

    However, I just talked to my crew leader the other day and she said chances are we wont start up again till we train for the next phase. She said her training is the 2nd week of April and then we would train shortly after.

    My question is, do I automatically get rehired for the next phase (Nonrespnse) or do I have to get a call from the local or regional office?

    I think my crew leader is under the assumption that she will have the same crew but who knows. The communication between crew leaders / FOS’s and local office management and regional office is absoultly horrific.

  7. Jack Says:

    Bill,

    To answer your question, you will not automatically get rehired for the next phase. You will have to get a call from the LCO asking if you want to work in the next phase.

    As far a the length of employment. Remember when you applied and the examiner read (from a scripted text) that “your employment can end at anytime due to the lack of work”.

  8. Unemployed Census Worker Says:

    I am livid!!! I was trained, told I would be working for approx. 12 weeks, I actually worked 5 weeks, and haven’t been called back! Meanwhile, I have run into people (with their cute little Census bags) only to find out more people have been hired since I was laid off. I am a veteran and college grad so where do they get off hiring someone who is not??? Is anyone else experienced any problems/bias in Census jobs?

  9. Jack Says:

    What are you complaining about? You were paid for your training and you worked 5 weeks. That’s more than alot of folks. Apprceiate what you had and share the “wealth”. Being a vet is commendable. And do you really think that having a ‘COLLEGE DEGREE’ makes you more hirable than one without? Certainly, you are overqualified for this type of work, but you were hired and worked for a while. Since you have a degree, why are you working now? Oh, I understand. There are lots of people in you situation. Just be thankful that you were able to get six weeks of work. There is NO bias I can assure you. I am a vet and I was hired Nov. 2008 and with the exception of about 4 weeks, I have been working for the Census Bureau since at two different positions. Maybe, how you performed in your 5 weeks wasn’t up to par and they didn’t want you back.
    Next time, do a better job, Grad.

  10. Dissatisfied "Employee" Says:

    I took my test to work for the CB about 3 and a half weeks ago. I got a call offering me the job about a week later and was supposed to start training later that same week. I got a call pushing my training back one week. I had my first day of training this past Tuesday. When I returned to resume training on Wednesday, about 30 minutes into the class the Crew Leader got a phone call and stepped outside. When he returned he informed us that all training had been canceled and that he was instructed to dismiss us immediately. I was employed by the Census Bureau for a grand total of about 5 and a half hours. Many people had taken off from work to attend the classes. Having been under the impression that I would be employed for at least four weeks I was especially upset for having forgone other employment opportunities to take the position as an Enumerator. What I don’t understand is how the CB didn’t realize the week before they hired us that the extra hundred or so people would not be necessary for the small amount of nonresponse work they had left. Some people in my class were under the impression that the CB did so to inflate their employment numbers. You know, so they could say how “The CB employed over 600,000 citizens for this decade’s census,” not mentioning the employees that would have been better off taking a more stable job somewhere else. But that was just something I heard as I left the room.