Douglas County is making good progress on recruiting local census workers but is still seeking more than 100 people to apply before the 2020 Census is rolled out.
The county is 63.8 percent toward its goal of hiring 309 workers, according to regional demographic officials assisting the U.S. Census Bureau.
Douglas County’s pace is ahead of 26 Minnesota counties that are less than 60 percent toward their goal, but it lags behind the 19 counties that have surpassed the 80 percent mark, according to figures updated this week.
Here’s an incentive to apply: The Census Bureau recently boosted the pay in Douglas County to $19 per hour for both office and census taker positions, about $5 higher than initially announced. Workers are also reimbursed for work-related mileage and expenses.
Local recruitment of workers needs to increase, according to Sara Stadtherr, communications coordinator for the city of Alexandria and a member of the local Complete Count Committee.
“It is a great, flexible job for anyone over 18,” she said. “They can work around a full-time job and make some extra money with a very short time commitment. Flexible, temporary and well-paying – a great combination for students, those working full time or retirees.”
Applications are being accepted now, but will end soon, Stadtherr said. The hiring process can move along quickly, she added.
“I recently heard of someone who filled out the online application, was called that day and then hired by phone on the spot,” Stadtherr said. “She was thrilled.”
Once someone applies, he or she should be able to log in to their account and see where they are in the hiring process, Stadtherr said.
Anyone interested in working as a census taker can apply online by visiting census.gov and clicking on “Census Jobs.”
A statewide need
Even with the pay boosts, Minnesota is still not attracting the number of needed workers, according to Susan Brower, state demographer.
Officials said Tuesday, Feb. 11 that the Census Bureau is 80% of the way toward its goal of approximately 38,000 applicants. Response rates to census job postings, many of which are temporary and part time, have varied by locale.
Sam Fettig, the Minnesota partnership coordinator for the Census Bureau, said the need for census workers is strongest in Greater Minnesota. The Twin Cities area, by contrast, has already surpassed its target number of applicants.
Officials said the region's census offices are poised to spend the next few weeks finalizing applications and extending job offers.
A lot at stake
Brower said it is important to find motivated workers who really want to see their communities do well, as census counts are tied to everything from political representation and government funding to business investments made in communities.
"There are all kinds of good things that flow to communities just because of this one count," Brower said. "We've got this little chance to get it right, and after that, we're stuck with our number for another 10 years.”
When it comes to political representation, Brower said population estimates indicate Minnesota is on the edge of losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"In 2010, Minnesota received the very last House seat that there was to be given. We received the 435th seat out of 435," Brower said, adding that Minnesota secured that seat by a margin of about 8,000 people.
"That's a razor-thin margin for a state of 5.3 million," Brower said, adding, "We're right back there this time around."
According to Brower, whether Minnesota keeps or loses the House seat could come down to a few thousand people, "Something we can make up for with a good count," she added.
The 2020 census count is expected to get underway around the second week of March, with census forms being sent to households.
In late April, census workers will start knocking on doors of households that didn't return mailed questionnaires.
Census workers, who undergo background checks before being sent out to count heads, will have a list of just 10 questions for people to answer. Census workers are required by law to keep any information they obtain regarding a household confidential.
If people don't answer their door or are otherwise not available, census workers will talk to neighbors, landlords and mail carriers in an attempt to establish how many people are living at an address, according to the Census Bureau.
Reasons people may attempt to avoid being counted vary, according to demographers, but they include a general mistrust of government.
Some housing situations are unconventional and for one reason or another, people living in them prefer to stay off the government's radar.
It is estimated that for each person not counted Minnesota, the state could lose about $28,000 over a decade.
These are the 10 questions the Census Bureau has for every American household: name; phone number; age, sex; Hispanic origin; race; relationship to householder; household type (own/rent); number of people in household; and does the resident (or residents) usually stay or live somewhere else.
Dave Olson and Matthew Guerry with the Forum News Service contributed to this story.