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Census Work Finished in Record Time: Why You Should Hire the "Overqualified"

In business, politics on July 20, 2009 at 7:44 am
1900 census - John Lindstrom (small)

Image by Birdie Holsclaw via Flickr

I heard this last week from a friend of mine, whom Census rules strictly forbid from identifying further, as this person, like everyone in their position, had to sign confidentiality forms to get the temporary full-time job. According to the Census:  “Each worker will take a lifetime oath to keep census information confidential. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents’ answers with any other government or law enforcement agency. Any violation of that oath is punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison.”

This person is educated, and used to work in a demanding and highly competitive industry, now utterly ravaged by the recession, that relies heavily on intellectual ability. Walking alone around unfamiliar neighborhoods in sun and rain and humidity with a hand-held device checking addresses — the crucial initial work of the 2010 census that begins in earnest next spring — wasn’t a dream job. But, in the area where we live, it paid more than $18 an hour and that’s damn good money in this recession, especially for steady work that doesn’t demand lifting or carrying. What I was told stunned me, although it shouldn’t have: people with qualifications far more senior than this person showed up in droves, grateful and eager to grab the opportunity to work, if only for a month.

As a result, Raul Cisneros, a spokesman for the Census told me, the census workers hired nationwide did indeed finish their workverifying addresses way ahead of schedule. They hired 140,000 people across the country, paying them between $10 an hour and $34/hour for the most demanding supervisory jobs. Another Census spokesman confirmed: “We did not have the turnover we’d had in the past. People were sticking around to do the job and in some places they finished that job ahead of schedule. In some places, they did finish very quickly.”

People want to work. It’s deadening and depressing to sit alone at home week after week after week sending out resumes into deep space. It doesn’t have to be a dream job or the job for the rest of your life. Ideally, even if for a while, it needs to put you in touch with other smart people whose very presence reminds you you’re not dead. That’s one of the toughest parts of being out of work. Chatting up random strangers at Starbucks or the library isn’t enough.

People with enormous amounts of talent, skill, experience and savvy are going to waste and the wise are snapping them up whenever and wherever they can. Even the smallest temporary job is worth it: people crave colleagues, somewhere to go, something smart to do and knowing they’re making a contribution. And, yes, the chance to pay some bills. Any income is better than no income!

The Census won’t be hiring again until March 2010, when, they told me, they’ll recruit 3.8 million people to fill 1.4 million jobs.

At least someone has definite job openings.

  1. I’ve put March 2010 down in my blackberry, the way things are going that info might be handy and I might end up applying myself!

  2. I wanted to apply but I’m not a U.S. citizen, only a green-cardholder, resident alien. I speak good Spanish, and the Census guys told me that might, in some regions, be enough to let them consider me anyway.

  3. Not only did they hire qualified people. They finished EARLY. When was the last time the government did that???

  4. Michael, my point exactly! I was told when the Census hires, they normally figure in a 30 percent (!) attrition rate due to the low(er) quality of the people attracted to low-wage, temp. job wages. Not only did no one quit (hello, they needed the money), but their education/skills/work ethic/desperation/whatever they brought made a huge, unexpected difference to the quality of this work.

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