by Barrett Seaman –
During the lunch hour on a rainy Tuesday last month, Yosibel Rodriguez, 20, walked confidently up to the desk in Tarrytown’s Warner Library, where two women armed with pamphlets and an array of laptops stood ready to recruit her. They were there to sign up workers for next year’s national census, offering a variety of jobs that could pay as much as $21.50-an-hour to make sure every community gets an accurate headcount. Though the recruiters were there for seven hours, only about 10 prospective candidates for these jobs filled out the requisite forms.
One of them was Yosibel, who had no hesitation about signing up. She wanted to do what she could to make sure her Hispanic community cooperated with the census when the time came. “Sometimes it’s harder for us,” she said, because of language and because of fears that registering for the census could lead to the deportation of a family member. Even though the courts struck down the Trump Administration’s attempt to include a question about citizenship on the census questionnaire, many in her community simply don’t trust the government. It would be another ten days to two weeks before she would find out if her application was approved, but her language skills give her a leg up.
Local officials welcome the Census Bureau’s recruitment effort, which is going into high gear as the April 2020 start date for the census nears. They know what’s at stake in counting every resident in their community. At the national level, of course, how many people live where determines the number of congressional districts in the state and the number of electors who will vote in the Electoral College. The consequences at the local level of government, however, boils down to money—lots of it.
At stake are hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid that are allocated according to population. They include Medicare and Medicaid, highway and public transit funds, community development block grants, school lunches, Head Start and special ed programs and literally hundreds more. How revenues from the newly increased county sales tax are distributed to villages according to population is just one more incentive for local governments and non-profits to make sure every head gets counted.
To get the job done in Westchester, according to the Census Bureau’s regional director for the New York region, Jeff Behler, 7,500 hundred workers are needed. There are a variety of jobs to fill, starting with those who recruit the recruiters. They, in turn, coordinate with village governments and libraries. There are education programs designed to ease fears, particularly in areas with significant immigrant populations. Terry Kirschner, Executive Director of the Westchester Library System, said the county’s library network has been busy doing general awareness marketing.” Our efforts are geared more towards working with the 38 public libraries to make sure that they have the technology tools and training to be able to help their community members complete the census forms,” he says. Several participated in a nationwide job fair that took place in October.
Indeed, October marked one of several milestones in the census calendar building towards the actual start of the count next May. In the week of October 21, census workers fanned out across the county to spread the word. Diana Roja, who helps Sleepy Hollow as well as several other rivertowns with their census efforts, works with libraries and community organizations, holding workshops to educate people about what the census does and why it’s important. “The census has to be done with people in the community,” she stressed.
Hiring workers is harder this time around because the unemployment rate is so low. “We’re in a very different economy than we were in 2010,” said Behler. With people less hungry for work than they were immediately after the credit crash that preceded the 2010 census, the pitch now is to sell jobs as part-time employment. There’s no minimum for the number of hours required to work. Employees can make their own schedules for which they are paid anywhere from $17 to $21.50 an hour—top dollar going to those in supervisory capacities. To find out more about census jobs, visit https://2020census.gov/en/jobs or https://2020census.gov/es/jobs for Spanish speakers.