Census jobs may help local economies _ temporarily

AP News
Posted: Dec 01, 2009 4:59 PM

Jobs with the U.S. Census Bureau could alleviate the residual pangs of the recession in some areas of Iowa _ at least for a while. Officials in one city with high unemployment wish the jobs were headed their way, temporary as they may be.

The U.S. Census bureau will hire 35,000 people in six Midwestern states, including Iowa, as part of its push to get 1 million temporary workers nationwide. Five Iowa cities will get census offices: Ames, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City and Waterloo.

Officials say it hasn't been hard to recruit workers.

"For the most part in this economy we're not having a problem getting applicants," said Wendy Button of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Workers will go door-to-door and follow up with households that didn't reply to initial surveys. Wages range from $11.50 to $20 per hour for "field positions," and less for clerical jobs.

Steve Dust, CEO of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance in Waterloo, a regional economic development organization, said the jobs are a way for people to have even temporary employment at good wages in the economic downturn.

"This puts people to work at a time when the job opportunities aren't as plentiful as they'll be in another year," Dust said.

Waterloo's unemployment rate reached 10 percent in October, far above its 2009 average of 6.4 percent and high even when accounting for seasonal workers. Dust noted that there likely won't be enough Census work to affect Waterloo's overall unemployment rate, but said the jobs could help some people weather the stagnant job market for at least one more year.

With the city's unemployment rate idling at more than 9 percent since July, officials in Ottumwa hoped to get an office and met with Census Bureau representatives. Ottumwa Economic Development Corp. executive director Roger Jones said he's frustrated that bigger cities _ which all except Waterloo have lower unemployment rates _ got census bureau offices while Ottumwa did not.

"It would have been nice, but we generally don't get the benefit of the doubt," Jones said. "The ice cream generally goes to the places that already have enough ice cream. I'll leave it at that."

Iowa Workforce Development spokeswoman Kerry Koonce said the Census Bureau has not given the state an estimate of how many jobs it would provide in Iowa, but said the positions could give jobseekers a leg up when the economy recovers.

"It's easier to find a job when you already have one. Whether that's a sad case or not, it's a fact," Koonce said. "Even if it's a temporary position, it shows your commitment to the work force."

Census Bureau officials are preparing for a tough year. A study of 11 major cities by the Pew Charitable Trusts, released in October, found that the 2010 Census could see a low response rate particularly because of residents displaced by foreclosures and because immigrants may be wary of filling out government forms.

The count is important, since the figures are used to redraw districts and apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to distribute more than $400 billion in government funds for schools, roads, hospitals and other programs.

The Census Bureau is also looking hard for bilingual workers who they hope will help count the more than 4.5 million people, mostly blacks and Hispanics, who were missed in the 2000 Census.

Potential employees are given a written test _ Button said 80 percent of applicants pass _ and those who pass are sworn in.

"There are people out there looking for work," Dust said, "and this is going to be a place for them to find it for a while."