Census raising an Island army to count us
Foreign born and seasonal residents are a challenge
The U.S. Census Bureau wants to hire 745 Islanders this spring and summer, a virtual army to count approximately 15,000 residents in the 2010 U.S. census.
Counting heads: How to get a Census job
The U.S Census happens every 10 years. The U.S. Census Bureau does not maintain a full-time staff to count the population and must hire a four-month temporary workforce to do the fieldwork during the census taking.
There are several types of jobs, including recruiters, data verifiers, and quality control specialists who review the census work for accuracy after fieldwork is completed. Pay varies by locale, but Island jobs are set at $12-$19 an hour and include mileage reimbursement and paid training.
The majority of the nearly 750 jobs on the Island are for census takers, called enumerators. They will begin work on April 1 and spend three months going house to house, interviewing residents and completing a 10-question census form for each resident.
The questions ask for limited personal information: name, age, phone number, race and ethnicity and living arrangements (part-time or full-time residents, rent or own the residence).
Applicants for the census taking jobs must be 18 years old, have a valid Social Security number, pass a background check and complete a 30-minute test that measures knowledge skills and abilities for a variety of census jobs. Many jobs require a valid driver's license and use of a car. Most census takers are U.S. citizens, though non-citizens may be hired if citizens are not available. Preference is given to veterans and to foreign-language speakers, including Portuguese speakers on the Island.
Applicants must mail or deliver completed applications and sit for the test. Online applications and tests are not accepted.
"The vast majority of people who take the test pass it, but it's important to do as well as you can, because preference is accorded on the basis of test scores as well," Barry Applebaum, local census office manager, said.
Interested Islanders may call 866-861-2010 to schedule an appointment or attend a U.S. Census job fair this Saturday, February 6, between 1:30 and 4 pm, at the Oak Bluffs Library.
The bureau hopes the prospect of earning $12-$19 an hour, with mileage and paid training will attract Islanders who are struggling with a estimated 25- to 30-percent winter unemployment rate, to work nights and weekends at part-time and full-time jobs to improve the accuracy of the census here.
The bureau will sponsor a job fair this Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Oak Bluffs Library, between 1:30 and 4 pm, to augment the 150 applications it has to date. The bureau offers full- and part-time jobs for up to four months, beginning April 1. Applicants must pass a 10-question test to be eligible for employment.
The bureau wants five times the number of census takers here than the 150 who worked on the 2000 census. That's necessary, census officials say, because counting heads on the Island is more difficult than in other places.
In the past, they say, undercounting resulted from under-staffing, a large number of uncounted foreign-born residents, the lack of mail home delivery here and the difficulty in distinguishing between year-round and seasonal households.
"We believe the Island was under-counted in 2000, but we don't know by how much," said Barry Applebaum, the local census office manager, during a visit to the Island last week. Based in Hyannis, he is responsible for the census on Cape Cod and the Islands, including the Elizabeth Islands.
Mr. Applebaum is a former Island resident who founded the Mailroom at the Triangle in Edgartown. He sold the business and moved to the Cape about 10 years ago.
An accurate count has significant financial value to communities because federal funding is based in part on population. Nationwide, each resident is tied to about $1,200 of federal funds per year. "If the Vineyard is undercounted by a thousand people, that translates to about $12 million over the 10-year life of the census," Mr. Applebaum explained last week on a visit to the Island.
The Census Bureau has prepared for this census in several new ways, including deployment last spring of 15 to 20 staffers with hand held Global Positioning System (GPS) devices that recorded the location of nearly 11,000 residential dwellings in advance of census taking. "Because the Island has limited home delivery, we cannot use the mail and we are prohibited from using town records, so field enumerators will make up to six visits per dwelling to identify everyone who lives there and determine which are year-round and which are seasonal dwellings," Mr. Applebaum said.
Residents living here illegally are a challenge. Nantucket officials believe their Island was undercounted by as much as 30 percent in 2000, Mr. Applebaum said, owing in large measure to the number of illegal and uncounted residents.
"There are kids from 125 Brazilian families now attending Martha's Vineyard schools," Mr. Applebaum said. "We need to count those families to provide sufficient funding for education."
Some Brazilians prefer to keep a low profile, however. "Many foreign-born residents fear interaction with the census because they believe we will give the information to Immigration," Mr. Applebaum said. But their fear is unfounded, he added. "We are not permitted by constitutional law to provide any census information to anyone, including to the president."
The census bureau has committed substantial resources to counting the Brazilian community statewide and on the Island. Marsha Marques is a pastor of a Brazilian church in Brockton and, since last November, has been a census partnership specialist charged with raising support from local Brazilian community and religious leaders to encourage participation from their community and congregations.
Ms. Marques is somewhat encouraged by meetings with three Island Brazilian pastors and with four Brazilian-run businesses during two visits to the Island in the past two weeks. "They were cautious during my first visit, but last week I felt they were trying to turn around, they seemed more willing to cooperate," she said.
The partnership program also has a Portuguese media specialist, but the Island doesn't have access to most Brazilian media, other than one TV station, which is supporting the effort, Ms. Marques said. Brazilian leaders estimated the Brazilian population on the Island at between 2,000 and 4,000, a sharp decline from two years ago.
"If the word comes from a person they trust, they are more likely to cooperate," Ms. Marques said. As part of the recruiting process, the Census is seeking Islanders who speak Portuguese to serve as field workers, called enumerators, who knock on doors and help residents complete the 10-question census form.
Following completion of fieldwork, the bureau will deploy quality assurance teams to check the veracity of the census taking, Mr. Applebaum said. By law, final population counts must be delivered to the president on December 31, 2010.