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How Older Workers Can Help With the 2020 Census

The bureau is hiring more than 500,000 people nationwide

En español | The U.S. Census Bureau wants to hire more than half a million temporary workers to help with next year's survey of the nation's population. With flexible hours and competitive pay, these jobs can be a good fit for older adults who are looking to augment their income, according to people who have filled these positions in the past.

Every 10 years, the government conducts a survey of every home in the United States in order to figure out how many people live in this country — and where they live. The population count determines how money is allocated for federal services and how many congressional representatives each state has.

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To handle this increased workload every decade, the bureau hires extra help. The peak recruiting phase for the 2020 census will start this mid-September and last through February, according to Timothy Olson, associate director for field operations for the Census Bureau. People who are interested can apply for positions online at 2020 Census Jobs (English application or Spanish application).

Most of the hiring will be for enumerators, the workers who go door-to-door to conduct interviews with people who haven't filled out the bureau's survey.

"Everyone in the country will have the opportunity to self-respond to the census, either online, over the phone or with a paper questionnaire,” Olson says. “But then there are some households that won't do that, and we follow up with them in person to conduct interviews. And in that operation, we will hire — all told — over half a million people, and they're distributed throughout the United States."

People are hired to work in their local area or neighborhood, Olson says. “One of the questions I often get is: ‘Where are you recruiting? Where are you hiring?’ And the answer is so easy for me. It's ‘Everywhere.’ Literally, everywhere. There is nowhere where we are not recruiting or not hiring."

The local hiring has advantages, both for the people who conduct the interviews and the people they have to talk to, according to Sandra Hamilton, 71, who worked as an enumerator for the 2010 census based in Ohio. Hamilton is a retired social worker who also volunteers at a food pantry near her home in downtown Cincinnati. When she started working for the Census Bureau 10 years ago, some of the people she was assigned to interview were familiar faces from her volunteer work.

"They knew me,” Hamilton says. “So usually, I could approach them and talk with them. They'd say to me, ‘I don't have to talk to you. I don't have to participate with the census.’ And I'd say, ‘Well, that's very true, but look at this road in front of you. There are potholes that need repair. And here's your granddaughter sitting beside you. Don't you want her school to be the best school? And at [the food pantry], that first aisle of food all comes from government money. So we won't be able to have that first aisle anymore” if the neighborhood is undercounted for the census."

Hamilton says she enjoyed the work and thrived while doing it. The flexible hours meant she could work a few hours in the morning, take a break during the afternoon when the weather was hot, then work a couple hours in the evening when the people she needed to interview were at home.

She says that when she was less familiar with a neighborhood, she had a friend who would drive her to the site, then wait outside in the car while she did the interview. And residents of the neighborhood were generally supportive, too.

"I did find that people kind of watched out for you,” says Hamilton, who also has applied to work for the 2020 census.

Olson says the bureau will start making job offers in early March, provide training at the end of April and do the follow-up with homes from late April through early July. But he encourages candidates to apply early. The bureau is especially seeking people who are bilingual.

"If somebody is interested, the best thing is to get your application in now, and be available to be considered, particularly if you have language skills other than English,” Olson says.

The pay ranges from $13.50 to $30 per hour, based on position and location, and those hired should expect positions to last six to eight weeks, Olson says. In addition to enumerators to conduct interviews, the Census Bureau also will be hiring to fill temporary clerical, supervisory and management positions at 248 offices nationwide.

Candidates only have to fill out an application for a job once in order to be eligible for any appropriate positions that open up. The application process takes less than 30 minutes, according to Olson.

"It's really a great opportunity be a part of their community and — while they're doing it — earn some extra income,” Olson says.