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.