Five months out from the 2020 census, the federal government has issued a plea: Apply for a census job.

The U.S. Census Bureau started a nationwide push Tuesday with a goal of attracting 2.7 million job applicants for part-time, temporary census jobs. Almost 900,000 people have applied so far during early recruiting efforts, said Timothy Olson, associate director of field operations for the Census Bureau.

"So that means we’ve only got two million more to go,” Olson said with a chuckle.

From that pool, the bureau plans to hire more than 500,000 temporary employees, including supervisors. Between 400,000 and 450,000 positions will be census takers, who will knock on the doors of neighbors who don’t fill out their census questionnaires and ask them in person for their information.

The decennial census is the country’s largest peacetime mobilization. The bureau anticipates recruiting for 2020 census jobs will be more difficult than during the 2010 census, when unemployment was high after the Great Recession. The bureau’s paid advertising starts this week.

In the first major field operation of the 2020 census, the bureau hired 32,000 people to verify 50 million addresses to ensure households can receive mail. This address canvassing wrapped up in mid-October.

The 2020 census will determine the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds to state and local governments, the boundaries of voting districts, and the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House. Funding over the next decade for housing assistance, health care, food assistance, education, transportation, and community development depends on population counts.

The bureau is aiming to recruit 16,700 Philadelphians to work as census takers and in other positions, according to Fernando Armstrong, director of the Census Bureau’s Philadelphia regional office. So far, 5,100 have applied.

In the region Armstrong’s office covers — Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. — the bureau is aiming to recruit 434,000 applicants, he said. More than 131,000 have applied.

The Census Bureau will start sending invitations to participate in the census to households nationwide in early March. Starting in May, the workers will follow up in person with households that do not respond, so the bureau will start hiring field supervisors in January and fieldworkers in February and March.

To qualify, residents must be at least 18 years old, legally able to work in the United States, and pass a criminal background check. Most census-taker jobs last several weeks and require availability in the evening and on weekends, when people are likely to be home. The bureau is eager to recruit bilingual fieldworkers and may accept noncitizens if it doesn’t receive enough applications from citizens, Olson said.

Hourly wages depend on the county in which census takers live and will work. Pay reaches $30 per hour in some areas of the country. Philadelphia workers will earn $21 per hour. Those in Bucks, Burlington, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties will earn from $19.50 to $20.50 per hour. In Camden and Gloucester Counties, workers will earn $16.50 an hour. The Census Bureau also pays travel expenses for fieldworkers.

Residents can apply at 2020census.gov/jobs.