CINCINNATI — The U.S. Census Bureau is attracting highly educated people to lead its 2010 count, including engineers, former corporate executives and college professors who are eager for work amid the economic recession.
In decades past, field workers tended to be older. Many were retired, or worked part time and took a census job to supplement their income.
Now, with the unemployment rate at 10 percent, census workers are more likely to be younger and jobless. Census officials say they’re also seeing stay-at-home moms returning to the work force, retirees looking to replenish their decimated savings, and college students who need money for rising tuition.
“The horrible recession has benefited us in an indirect way – our applicant pool contains a set of people with experience and background and training that is unprecedentedly rich,” Census Director Robert Groves said.
Eleanor Hicks, a former University of Cincinnati political science professor, is working as a partnership associate for the U.S. Census Bureau – a temporary, part-time job in which she gets paid by the hour to work with minority groups to educate them on the importance of the 2010 census.
Hicks said she doesn’t feel over qualified for the job.
“I don’t think of it in those terms,” she said. “If I was looking for a career, that’s a separate thing. But it’s a temporary job. It serves a civic duty.”
The economy, she said, was just one factor.
“It was primarily the flexibility. It was an additional source of income without having to make a choice with my primary source of income,” she said.
Census field workers mostly work afternoons, evenings and weekends because that’s when people are most likely to be home. Pay depends on the local market, ranging from a starting wage of $12.25 an hour in southeastern Indiana to $16 in the city of Cincinnati.
Qualifications for that job are minimal: Workers must have a valid driver’s license, have a clean criminal record and pass a 26-question basic skills test demonstrating an ability to read a map and follow procedures.
Rob Ervin, a former radio producer, took a temporary census job as operations manager in West Chester, Ohio, to supplement an income from freelance writing and substitute teaching.
The census job will last only until the office packs up by the end of summer.
“There’s two sides to the census,” said Ervin, 44, of nearby Hamilton. “You have the cold, statistical, counting numbers paperwork side. Then you have the other side of it, which is, let’s go into the neighborhoods and meet our neighbors. I’m getting to do both.”
The Constitution requires the head count every 10 years to draw congressional districts and to dole out Electoral College votes to the states. Congress uses the count to distribute more than $400 billion each year in federal aid to state, local and tribal governments.