U.S. Census Bureau map showing progress toward application goals as of March 5. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau.
U.S. Census Bureau map showing progress toward application goals as of March 5. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau.
By Chris Bowling

As the census’ April 1 launch date nears, the U.S. Census Bureau is still looking for workers in Nebraska to help administer the decennial survey. These workers help the Census Bureau make connections with every last person to ensure it receives an accurate count.

As of Feb. 24, Douglas County had only reached 68.7% of its applicant goal; it’s about 1,500 applications short of its 5,100 target. 

Mark Allensworth, an area census officer manager, said the Census Bureau has been hiring since January and is gearing up for a big hiring push, which will last until March 17, for positions that include census takers and supervisors. “Were definitely looking for applications and people who can work,” he said.

Though Nebraska as a state is nearing its goal of applications received — indeed, several counties are at or have exceeded their goals — Douglas County still lags behind, despite ramping up hourly pay for census takers to $21.50 and supervisors to $23.50.

“Jobs are the big challenge,” said David Drozd, research coordinator with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research. “Even in 2017 the Census folks said ‘It’s going to be finding the workers that keeps us up at night.’”

The problem is one Nebraskans hear often — its workforce participation rate is working against it, said Drozd, who works with the census and similar data for the university. With very low unemployment and high rates of workforce participation, Drozd said it’s been hard to reach enough people who need work and are open to temporary jobs.

To remedy that situation, the Census Bureau has hiked up the hourly rate for these flexible-hours, part-time jobs. For months, the volunteer partners with the Census Bureau have spread the message to faith groups, community organizations and other outlets to get people knocking on doors.

If the Census doesn’t get enough applications, Drozd said they will simply hire from outside the state. The downside, he said, is two-fold: it takes away an opportunity to keep the money in Nebraska, and the people knocking on doors don’t know the community’s layout or nuances.

“If an area doesn’t get enough applications, it will still get counted accurately,” Drozd said. “But they might not know the streets as well.”

That’s an important factor as these census-taker employees look to fill any holes in the census process.

Starting in March, houses will begin receiving invitations to complete the census over the phone, by mail or, for the first time, online. On April 1, the nation will observe Census Day and encourage people to complete the questionnaire.

Throughout this process, employees with the Census Bureau could begin counting hard-to-count communities, such as homeless populations, college students and those in hospitals or nursing homes. If the Census Bureau has not heard from a house after April, census employees begin making house visits. These usually last from May to July. Finally, by December, results are delivered to the president and Congress.

Douglas County’s application pools rank in the bottom third when compared to other counties across the state. Counties with other municipalities, however, are nearing their goals. Lancaster County pulled in 94.6%, Sarpy County got 87.6% and Madison County reached 82%. Hall County, which contains Grand Island, even hit more than 129% of its goal. However, counties such as Buffalo, which contains Kearney, and Douglas neighbor Dodge County, also lag with only a little more than half of their goals reached.

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Chris Bowling

Chris has worked for The Reader since January 2020. As an investigative reporter and news editor he’s taken deep dives into topics such as police transparency, affordable housing and COVID-19. Originally...

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