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Census Bureau searching for 5,000 workers in Bay Area

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Need a temporary job to help pay off holiday bills? The U.S. Census Bureau has lots — a half-million across the United States, to be exact.

The federal agency is now ramping up hiring for the 2020 census next spring, attempting to find 5,000 temp workers in the Bay Area to help conduct the once-a-decade count of every person living in America.

The bureau is optimistic that competitive wages — $21 an hour in Sonoma County and up to $30 in other parts of the Bay Area — along with flexible hours and a sense of civic duty will help it recruit a diverse local workforce, agency spokesman Joshua Green said.

An accurate count is critical. Billions of dollars in federal funding are divvied up among states, counties and cities on the basis of their populations, impacting funding for roads, schools, emergency services and other public programs, Green said. The count also influences political representation, yielding data used to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives evenly among the 50 states on the basis of their population.

California — the most populous state in the nation — has much to lose if its population is undercounted. In 2016, it received approximately $115 billion in federal funding distributed, in part, on the basis of population, according to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy.

“It’s not a boring job,” Green said. “You’re literally counting people who are going to get that money back in terms of federal funding. It’s a collective effort that does get real benefits.”

Workers need to be at least 18, authorized to work in the United States and will have to pass a background check and get fingerprinted. But, Green said, “anyone can do this job as long as you’re reliable and want to help.”

The bureau is looking for people willing to work both full-time and part-time, with a number of the hours in the evening and on weekends when people are most likely to be at home. Speaking multiple languages is also a plus. The jobs generally last six to eight weeks, although the timeframe varies. Some people might be selected by December or January and asked to start as early as February, with others starting in the spring and summer.

The bulk of the work is done in the field between May and July after the Census Bureau has collected survey responses and identified households that require follow-up interviews, according to the bureau.

That is when census workers knock on doors and ask questions about the composition of a household, typically on nights and weekends when people are home, Green said.

The bureau is attempting to recruit Bay Area workers in a drum-tight labor market. Unemployment stood at 2.3% in Sonoma County in October, near its lowest level in more than three decades.

“It’s a challenge,” Green said. “We just have to keep getting the message out. We hire straight from the community, and we want people from all walks of life to work where they live.”

Recruiting census workers who reflect their communities is a key tactic to increase participation in the census and improve the accuracy of the count, said Nicollette Weinzveg, health program officer for United Way of the Wine Country, which dispersed $286,000 in state grant funds to nonprofits working on census outreach across the North Coast.

Communities with large numbers of immigrants or lower-income residents are more difficult to count accurately.

Residents may be wary of sharing information about their household with the federal government, or may not have the means to participate as the census shifts toward online surveys, according to the Census Bureau.

It identified parts of Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Healdsburg as undercounted areas, as well as large swaths of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties.

State and local governments lose out on $20,000 annually for every person who does not get counted, according to the Census Bureau. Over 40% of Sonoma County’s budget came from state or federal sources last year.

Having reputable census workers who are familiar with residents in an area helps avoid undercounts that leave communities short on federal aid, Weinzveg said.

“We want to engage these trusted messengers that people know so there’s not an unwillingness to work with an enumerator (when they knock on your door),” she said.

Apply online at 2020census.gov/jobs.

The San Jose Mercury News contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

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