The U.S. Department of Commerce’s 2020 Census operation hopes ultimately to hire workers in every county in Kansas.
It will be “a challenge,” said Shane Ousey, area manager for Kansas and Oklahoma for Census 2020, particularly in western Kansas, he said.
The most recent worker recruiting table for the counties under the auspices of the Wichita office - over 90 of the state’s 105 counties are in that office’s territory - showed the majority of counties where worker recruitment or applicants fell below 50 percent of the recruitment goal was in the west, especially in southwest Kansas.
Western counties under 50 percent of their calculated recruitment or applicant goal included: Comanche, Lane, Morton, Haskell, Kearny, Ellsworth, Edwards, Hamilton, Grant, Ness, Rice, Clark, Ellis, Osborne, and Stanton.
By contrast, Reno County was at 73 percent of its recruitment target for the peak period.
The counties where applicant response exceeded the goal also were mostly small western counties, except for Geary County, a more populous county producing a notable applicant response. Cheyenne, Greeley, Trego, and Logan counties already had recruitment that put them at 100 percent or more of their applicant goal.
The 2020 Census has two area offices in Kansas: Wichita and Overland Park. The principal jobs outside the offices are census field supervisors who will oversee census takers within an area.
Thousands of census takers will be deployed in Kansas. This temporary workforce will focus on those who did not act after they received a Census postcard in the mail in March. That postcard will explain how households - for the first time in history - can complete the federal form online. Another option will be to complete it by phone.
If someone prefers a paper form, they can wait for that to arrive by mail, but waiting to respond increases the likelihood a census taker will knock on their door, according to Paige Wilson, media specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau.
The hourly pay for most census takers in Kansas will be $15, with supervisors receiving about $17 an hour, Ousey said.
Census takers must be at least 18 years old and while a waiver is possible in limited circumstances, they are expected to be U.S. citizens. They must have access to a vehicle, and mileage reimbursement will be about 58 cents a mile, Ousey said.
They can work ten hours a week, or 20 hours or 40 hours, he said, of the flexibility available for census takers. Because they will be knocking on doors of households that did not complete the Census, they could work afternoons, evenings, or weekends - whenever they likely will find people at home.
“We are not at the hiring point yet,” said Wilson of the field staff. But they have been encouraging people to apply online at 2020census.gov/jobs
The recruitment or applicant goal is not the same as a hiring goal, Wilson said. The target goal for applicants is high because some people will choose to drop out of the Census labor pool and others could be eliminated by the background check.
Much of the selection of field staff from online applications will be done in January. That will be followed by the background check, which could take a while, Wilson said. Ousey urged people not to rule out applying because of the background check.
Training will be carried out in March and April, with trainers going to field staff instead of requiring them to travel to Wichita, according to Wilson. There will be a day of classroom training, followed by online training. Later, there will be one more classroom training session and more online training.
Census takers will be dispatched beginning in later April or early May. Work will continue in June. The finish date is July 31.
Hiring in place
“We’re trying to hire people from their communities,” Ousey said.
They have language goals as they put together staff, he said, recognizing, for example, high concentrations of Hispanic and Vietnamese populations in the region.
A census taker won’t have to speak multiple languages, Ousey said. They will carry a card that contains many languages and the resident can point to the language that he speaks and a phone number will allow him to complete the Census on the phone with someone speaking his language.
One factor requiring a hunt for workers, according to Ousey, is the low unemployment rate. It was at 3.1 percent in October and November in Kansas, according to the Kansas Department of Labor.
“We’re looking for people who don’t know they want a job,” Ousey said.
One potential labor pool will be the high school graduating class of 2020. They will be leaving school in May when the census takers are at the start of their work.
Youths who are 17 can apply. They just have to be 18 to work, Ousey said, and have access to a car.
Ten years ago when the last Census was conducted, Ousey was still in the U.S. Army.
Does anything keep him up at night as the count approaches?
“Getting enough people to do the job and do it correctly,” he said. Also, he said, “Keeping my folks safe.”
Data from the Census determines the distribution of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and apportionment in the Kansas Legislature. It also is used for the allocation of government funds.
For every household not counted in Hutchinson, the community will miss out on approximately $48,927 in federal funding over the next decade, according to Count Me in Hutch.
“It’s important that we get it right,” Ousey said.
Ousey wants people to go online as soon as they get the first opportunity and complete the Census. That will reduce the workload for the census takers.
Taxpayers win, too, he pointed out.