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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Census Hiring Top Talent at Higher Wages to Lower Turnover Rates

BY ERIK DERR Contributing Reporter The federal jobs program otherwise known as the U.S. Census has already started injecting thousands of higher-than-minimum-wage jobs into the Valley. Between now and the beginning of 2010, when the decennial count takes place, upwards of 4,000 temporary employees will be hired locally to help the effort, says the Census Bureau’s James Christy, regional director for the Los Angeles area, Hawaii and Pacific territories including Guam. Individual jobs will average about 20 hours a week and pay $18 per hour, a significant increase from the national average wages offered in previous censuses. “We’re attempting to attract top talent” willing to complete their jobs, said Christy, who explained the bureau began offering market-relative wages after 1990, when, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News, national unemployment was about 5.6 percent, census workers were paid at a much lower level and the turnover rate for counters was about 100 percent. The bureau expects this year’s turnover at around 30 percent. A small army is already out canvassing Valley neighborhoods, counting residential dwellings to which census questionnaires will be mailed. The next wave of new employees, selected this fall, will go into the field and follow up unreturned or incomplete questionnaires. By year’s end, the bureau will operate about 14 separate offices in the Valley, including the regional headquarters in Van Nuys and the recently-established regional census coordination center in Northridge, which has a staff of about 150. Yes, says Christy, the census is offering area wage-earners some relief from the economic woes that have pushed the unemployment rate in Los Angeles County to 11 percent. But, the count’s true economic impact will be felt after the numbers are gathered and sent on to federal officials, who will use the results to, first and foremost, determine how many U.S. representatives local residents elect to Congress. The census information is also used to calculate the allocation of federal, state and local funding, such as community development block grants, which cover a wide variety of needs. That’s why the bureau plans a pre-census media blitz aimed at teaching residents how simply completing and returning the questionnaire can significantly impact their ability to access government resources, says Julie Ly, the bureau’s deputy regional director in Los Angeles. Of course, for many, particularly from countries where the government doesn’t offer so many layers of public support, “understanding what we at the census do .is hard,” said Ly. Nonetheless, Ly asserts the Census Bureau has made “a lot” of gains in proving its counters can be trusted and information in the questionnaires will be kept secure and confidential. Christy, at his current post for six years, admits he’s turned down “many opportunities to make more money,” because he believes his work is so important and noble. “The information we collect is used to make so many decisions,” he said. “We touch every sector of society.” Working on the U.S. Census, Christy said, “is a remarkable thing to do in service of your community.”

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