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The Census Bureau is hiking pay as recruitment lags for the 2020 Census

Recruiters have a new incentive to make census jobs more attractive: a pay raise. The 2020 Census will determine the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars to state and local governments.

The Census Bureau is distributing these recruitment fliers as it seeks to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs for the 2020 Census.
The Census Bureau is distributing these recruitment fliers as it seeks to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs for the 2020 Census.Read moreMichaelle Bond / Staff

It’s not uncommon for folks to overspend this time of year, leaving people looking for ways to earn some extra cash to pay off the holiday cheer once bills come due. The Census Bureau is counting on that.

Officials knew filling almost half a million jobs to conduct the 2020 Census would be difficult given the country’s low unemployment rate. But recruiting for the decennial population count "is more of a challenge than we anticipated,” said Fernando Armstrong, director of the Census Bureau’s Philadelphia Regional Office.

Because census takers for the first time will be using smartphones when they follow up with neighbors and must apply online, “census junkies" who apply every decade but aren’t as comfortable with technology may be hesitant to sign up, Armstrong said. That’s in addition to the bureau having to compete with other employers in a way it didn’t have to for the postrecession 2010 Census.

So when census job fairs in Philadelphia take place in January, recruiters will have a new tool to help make census jobs more attractive: a pay raise.

In Philadelphia, the bureau will pay census takers — the workers who go door to door in their neighborhoods following up with households that don’t respond to questionnaires — $25.50 an hour. That’s up from the $23 the bureau originally said it would pay.

Workers in Montgomery, Chester, Camden, and Gloucester Counties also are getting a raise. Chester County census takers are benefiting the most, earning $27.50 per hour, up from $19.50. Hourly pay rates in Bucks ($20.50), Delaware ($19.50), and Burlington ($20) Counties have not changed.

“It’s great news for Philadelphians looking to make a little extra money,” said Stephanie Reid, executive director of the city initiative Philly Counts 2020. “This is a win for Philadelphia.”

The 2020 Census will determine the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars to state and local governments, the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House, and the boundaries of voting districts.

According to census officials, the bureau has raised hourly rates in almost 300 local jurisdictions by an average of $2.85 throughout Pennsylvania; Washington; Delaware; Maryland; Ohio; Virginia; Kentucky; Tennessee; and West Virginia, which are all covered by the Philadelphia regional office. The bureau has increased pay for previous census counts, but "a lot more areas are benefiting from the higher rate than in the past,” Armstrong said.

He and his five fellow regional directors asked the bureau for the pay increases, he said. Census Bureau officials consulted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and wages from area private-sector jobs to come up with new rates they considered competitive.

» READ MORE: Just how many people live in Philly, the U.S.? Here's why that's a tough question to answer.

Waivers also are available so that Pennsylvania residents can earn extra income from the Census Bureau without it jeopardizing their government assistance. Pennsylvania is one of 19 states to offer waivers for people receiving benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and one of 13 allowing Medicaid waivers.

Nationwide, the Census Bureau is aiming for an applicant pool of 2.7 million people for positions supporting the 2020 Census. Philadelphia has reached 53% of its goal of almost 198,000 applicants. That’s slightly better than the Philadelphia census region as a whole, which has reached 46% of its goal.

January is a key recruitment month for the Census Bureau. The pay increases take effect then. Its national advertising campaign starts in earnest. And local census offices will host open houses.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia trains more than 2,000 people in 1 day to be 2020 "Census Champions"

The Census Bureau will offer census taker jobs to successful applicants in January and February, but the bulk of hiring will happen in March, which is when the bureau needs to reach its recruiting goal.

Census jobs fairs in Philadelphia will focus on areas the Census Bureau has historically undercounted. People will be able to fill out applications on the spot. City officials plan to advertise recruitment sessions online at