This month, Rhode Island residents will receive surveys for the 2010 census. The only problem is there aren't enough people to go door-to-door surveying households that fail to return the form by mail. We encourage students to help resolve this issue by getting jobs with the local census office.
The U.S. Census Bureau will mail out forms during March, with a target return date of April 1. Census-takers, also known as enumerators, will then visit households that filled out the form incorrectly or didn't return it at all and conduct the survey in person. These door-to-door visits take place from April to July. Administrators try to hire enumerators who live in the neighborhoods they will survey. This year, the census bureau plans to hire 2,300 people to serve as enumerators in Rhode Island's communities.
Despite Rhode Island's 12.7 percent unemployment rate, officials are having difficulty hiring enough qualified applicants to carry out the census, according to a recent Providence Journal article. Many applicants do not have sufficient language and literacy skills to conduct the survey. Further, since the start of the testing process for potential hires last year, there has been considerable attrition in the pool of applicants still interested in the position. Many of Rhode Island's unemployed may also be worried about losing their access to unemployment benefits by taking a temporary job.
The Providence office plans to fill a total of 1,200 openings, but its director told the Providence Journal that it is still short of target recruitment. And the census office in Warwick — which is responsible for surveying communities like Newport and Woonsocket — has less than 60 percent of the applicant pool size needed to ensure that all positions are filled by qualified enumerators.
Employment as an enumerator is a great opportunity for students to support the local community and get directly involved in a core process of our political system. The results of the census are critical to apportioning representation fairly and distributing federal funds effectively. But the job, which lasts about eight weeks, isn't just noble. It's also profitable: Enumerators earn $15 to $17 per hour, more than most on-campus jobs at Brown.
Most Brown students meet the basic employment requirements easily. The national census Web site especially encourages bilingual speakers to apply, and there's no shortage of those here on campus. Enumerators usually conduct door-to-door surveys in the evenings and on weekends, making the job reasonably compatible with students' schedules. And given the experience many students already have canvassing for political causes, we feel students are exactly the type of qualified, enthusiastic applicants the local census offices hope to find.
In an ideal world, every household would complete the form accurately and return it by mail on time. For every one percent of the population that doesn't return forms by mail, the government spends $85 million to locate them, U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves told the New York Times in January.
But as long as some households don't respond, citizens need to step up and make sure everyone is counted. We hope students will take advantage of this opportunity to participate in an important nationwide process and make a good chunk of change for doing so.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials (at) browndailyherald.com