October 09, 2019

The 2020 Census: Help Wanted

author photoBy Colby King

If you study sociology you’ve very likely worked with data from one of the several surveys administered by the US Census Bureau. And while it is not 2020 yet, you might have already seen Census Bureau workers in your neighborhoods, as they have begun to check addresses ahead of next year’s count.

The US Census Bureau and its surveys are important to the discipline of sociology, and this fall I have been encouraging my students to consider applying for a job with the US Census Bureau. While field jobs and career positions with the US Census Bureau are always something sociology students might consider as long-term possibilities, the Bureau is currently recruiting thousands of people for several different temporary jobs in preparation for the 2020 Decennial Census. These temporary jobs include not just census takers, but also clerical positions, as well as a few supervisory and outreach positions. You can apply for all of the 2020 Census jobs through one online application form, which is available here.

There are many reasons you might be interested in working for the Census. While the jobs are temporary, they offer competitive wages and you are paid for the time you spend in training for the work. The schedule is typically flexible, and the work usually lasts several weeks or months. You can learn more about pay rates in your local area by visiting the Bureau’s Pay & Locations page

Another reason I encourage students to consider jobs with the Census is my own positive experiences working for the Census. I worked for the 2010 Decennial Census as an enumerator in South Carolina while I was a graduate student, and I found the job a lot of fun. I wrote a short reflection about my experiences for Contexts Magazine. All of the positive characteristics I mentioned above were true for the work I got to do – the pay was pretty good, the hours were flexible, and even the training was interesting.

But, for a budding sociologist, there are a whole lot of other reasons to consider working for the Census. First of all, you will be helping the US Census Bureau as they accumulate the information that they use to create the data sets that so many sociologists and other social scientists work with. You will also be helping your community. Our country’s constitution mandates the decennial census, because it is used to reapportion representation in the US House of Representatives. In working for the Census, you’ll be helping to ensure that the residents of your community are counted and represented accordingly.

Also, though, enumerator jobs can be a fun way to get to know your local area better. During training, you are likely to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds and circumstances in your neighborhood and region who will work alongside. If you are working as an enumerator, you will also be exploring new neighborhoods and traveling into places you maybe previously only passed by.

When I worked for the census, I lived in Columbia, South Carolina, and I spent several weeks knocking on doors and taking counts in neighborhoods throughout the area between Columbia and Sumter, South Carolina. I visited dozens of neighborhoods. Just because I had the chance to explore new neighborhoods and meet new people, though, does not mean that I got into everybody’s business. Census data is protected. In fact, the Census Bureau has one of the strongest confidentiality guarantees in the federal government. And all Census workers are sworn to uphold privacy and confidentiality. It is against the law for any Census worker to share any census or survey information that identifies an individual or business. So while I was exploring new neighborhoods, and meeting a lot of people, I was not sharing private or identifiable information about my neighbors, nor would you if you take a job with the Census.

You might have also heard that there had been a struggle over the possible inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 Decennial Census survey. There are concerns that the inclusion of a citizenship question, or even just the ongoing debate about the possible inclusion of a citizenship question, will suppress response rates, and lead to an undercount of some communities that could cause these communities to be underrepresented in the reapportionment process.

You will not see a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, after all. Three federal judges have blocked the current administration from asking about US citizenship status as part of the 2020 Census. You might, though, see a citizenship question on one of the other more than 100 other surveys the Census Bureau conducts for the federal government, but again, it will not be asked as part of the 2020 Decennial Census. Now that the citizenship question has been excluded from the 2020 Census, and the administration has dropped its efforts to add the question to the Census, several organizations are mounting efforts to encourage participation and a full count for the 2020 Census.

The Census Bureau is now working to prevent the spread of misinformation about the 2020 Census, and are encouraging the public to email them about any rumors they hear regarding the upcoming count. The email address, appropriately enough is: rumors@census.gov.

But just to clear up a few other issues:

  • Both US citizens and non-citizens who live in the country are counted
  • The Census Bureau is required by law to keep the information they collect private and confidential (including not sharing identifiable information with other branches of the government)
  • As of now you will not be able to complete the census online, but you should be able to complete a paper form, call a 1-800 number, or talk with an enumerator when they knock on your door.

NPR reporter Hansi Lo Wang has been covering the 2020 Decennial Census and shared a thread on Twitter summarizing some of these concerns here. He is great resource for following news about the Census, by the way, and was recently awarded the Excellence in Statistical Reporting Award from the American Statistical Association for his work covering the Decennial Census.

So, if you’re looking for a job, interested in helping your community, or just interested in learning more about the ways in which the US Census Bureau conducts its surveys, consider applying to work for the census. To learn more about specific positions with the US Census Bureau near you, you can contact your local census office at 1-855-JOB-2020 (1-855-562-2020), just select option 3. You can also use the Federal Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339 for TTY/ASCII.

 

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