Lawmakers want Census to hire the long unemployed
Four Democratic lawmakers want the Census Bureau to give preference to long-term unemployed Americans when the agency starts hiring temporary workers for next year's decennial headcount. But the recommendations will likely to fall on deaf ears since agency staffers finalized plans for next year's census long ago.
Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) sent a letter Wednesday to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke asking the Census Bureau to prioritize job applicants who have been out of work "for an extended period of time" and applicants set to lose unemployment benefits "in the near term."
A Schumer spokesman said later that the senators are most concerned about the unemployed who have exhausted their benefits or may do so when the agency is hiring. The agency will do most of its hiring next spring.
The bureau plans to hire more than 1 million people next year to help conduct follow-up interviews with Americans who fail to return their Census questionnaires -- making the federal bureau among next year's biggest hirers. Though the historically low unemployment rate made recruitment efforts difficult during the 2000 count, the agency has been so swamped with applications this time around it has canceled a recruitment advertising campaign.
The lawmakers also want the Census Bureau to distribute informational materials and maybe even hold job interviews with potential applicants at job centers nationwide. Any costs could be covered with the funds no longer needed for the recruitment campaign, the senators said.
“In these difficult economic times, we’ve made it a priority to hire reliable people who need jobs," Census spokesman Stephen Buckner said in an e-mail. "In this effort, we’ve taken several steps to target the unemployed when filling positions for the 2010 Census. As the hiring process ramps-up next year, we look forward to working with Congress to build on the extensive strategies already well underway to put unemployed people to work in service to the nation.”
The agency already partners with the Labor Department and state and local governments to post job announcements at work training and employment centers. It also uses space provided by Goodwill Industries so that potential applicants can complete the necessary tests.
But current and former Census Bureau employees also like to point out that any recommendations about Census operations and hiring need to be submitted at least three years before the decennial count, which is when officials start finalizing the plans. The preparations are made years in advance in order to secure in the budget the money necessary for the year of the count.
So while the Democrats' recommendations are well-intentioned, they'll more likely score short-term political points than any actual change to Census operations.
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| December 2, 2009; 3:24 PM ET
Categories: Census, Congress
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