WASHINGTON — A once-in-a-decade job opportunity is just around the corner for jobless Americans who are struggling through the economic recession.
Across the country, the 2010 census is ramping up efforts to hire 1.2 million temporary workers for the decennial head count, which begins in March.
Most of the jobs, about 700,000, will require knocking on doors for six to 10 weeks from May to July to find people who didn't mail in their census questionnaires.
The massive hiring effort will require more than 3 million job applicants, and the U.S. Census Bureau is targeting unemployed workers to find them.
At a news briefing this week, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said that his agency would advertise the job openings in unemployment offices as well as in the local media so that "everyone who needs a job knows about the job opportunities."
"We want to hire people in the neighborhoods where they'll work," Groves said. "We've learned over the decades that hiring people who know the neighborhoods, who know the streets, who know the lifestyles and the goings and comings of neighborhoods works better."
The recession is affecting the 2010 census in several ways. With unemployment at 10 percent, officials are seeing better-qualified applicants.
On the down side, however, record foreclosures and job losses have forced millions of people to leave their homes and change their addresses, which means they'll be harder for census workers to find.
Because of this and rising anti-government sentiment, the bureau doesn't expect to match the results of the 2000 census, in which 67 percent of households completed and returned their questionnaires. The bureau has estimated that nearly 48 million households will require follow-up contacts or visits this time.
The states with the largest populations will require the most workers to flush out these non-respondents. California is expected to hire more than 118,000 workers by September, while New York state, Texas and Florida each are projected to employ more than 90,000.
The pay will vary widely by location, because of the difference in the cost of living. Workers in Olympia, Wash., will make $12.75 an hour, for example, while the hourly rate is $13.25 in Columbia, S.C., and $13.75 in Lexington, Ky.
In the Wichita area, the hourly rate starts at $12.75 an hour.
The pay jumps to $15 an hour throughout South Florida and in Sacramento and Fresno, Calif. In Raleigh, N.C., census workers will earn $16.25 an hour, while those in Tacoma, Wash., will make $17.50 an hour.
Higher-paying areas include Charlotte, N.C., at $18.25 an hour, San Francisco at $22 an hour and Anchorage, Alaska, at $25 an hour.
Nigel Gault, the chief U.S. economist for forecaster IHS Global Insight, said the temporary jolt of jobs that the census would provide would be a "fortuitously timed extra piece of government stimulus."
He said the jobs provided additional spending power while boosting the nation's employment and payroll count. They'll also put a small, temporary dent in the unemployment rate.
Fortunately, Gault predicts that the economy should be adding jobs instead of shedding them by the time most of the new census hires begin work in early May.
"So this is an extra temporary kick on top of that," he said.
For the first time, all applicants will be fingerprinted as part of a stepped-up criminal background check. Applicants with serious and violent crime convictions won't be hired.
"If there are less serious convictions of less serious crimes, then you can be hired only if the applicant can demonstrate the extenuating circumstances that prove beyond a doubt that they don't pose a risk to the American public," Groves said.