‘We are at a critical crossroads’: Falling short on recruitment goals, Census says it needs more applicants

With Census Day just months away, the U.S. Census Bureau is ramping up efforts to attract more applicants after the latest figures show the government agency is below its recruitment goals for this time of year.

During a joint informational hearing with the Assembly and Senate Census committees at Long Beach City Hall on Tuesday, Census officials revealed they missed the mark on their recruiting goals for this time of year—both in California and Los Angeles County.

“With our unemployment rate being so low, the federal hiring process being so slow and the lack of flexibility and creativity about how we need those hiring roles, we are at a critical crossroads,” Ditas Katague, the director of the California Complete Count census office, told committee members.

Statewide, Census officials hoped to be at 50% of their recruiting goal of 273,000 applicants by March 1, 2020. Today they are at about 45%. In the county, that gap is a bit wider at 42% of the recruitment goal, which is 72,000 applicants by March.

In Long Beach, which has one of about 30 Census offices statewide, a recruiting goal of over 10,000 applicants by March 1 is at about 45%.

“It’s slowly moving upward,” Yolanda Lazcano, regional recruiting coordinator for the U.S. Census Bureau, said when she testified before the committees.

Los Angeles County has the most hard-to-count communities in the country, including its homeless population, immigrant and limited-English population, ages 0-5 and elderly populations as well as the enormous renter demographic.

Dr. Richard Pan, who represents the Sacramento area in the state Senate, acknowledged that while the country’s current low unemployment rate is a good challenge to have—recent Department of Labor statistics show unemployment at 3.5%—the physician asked to what degree federal hiring practices may pose as barriers, especially in communities of color that have a disproportionate rate of incarceration.

“We’re taking large chunks of people out of the pool,” Sen. Pan said.

To be eligible for a Census job applicants must be at least 18 years old, have a valid Social Security number and be a U.S. citizen.

Applicants must also pass a criminal background check, but Lascano said exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis. Waivers for employment are also available for those on public assistance and receive Social Security benefits, she said.

Kenague and Lazcano said an “accelerated” national recruitment campaign is currently underway as well. It includes outreach on job sites, social media promotion and partnering with organizations to reach key audiences like seniors, veterans, college students and seasonal workers.

“We have to instill a sense of urgency,” Lazcano said. “Anyone who has a full time job can do this part time.”

For more information about 2020 Census jobs click here. For more information about Census Day (April 1, 2020) click here.

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.