TEXT OF STORY
KAI RYSSDAL: Whatever the goods and bads of today’s unemployment report were, I can pretty much guarantee you that at least one part of the economy is going to be adding jobs over the next couple of months. There’s a huge push on right now to hire more than a million people to work for Uncle Sam. They’re going to be helping to count the rest of us.
Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler caught up with the Census Bureau’s employment office here in Los Angeles.
Census recruiter speaking in Spanish
Jeff Tyler: Speaking to a Hispanic community group, the census recruiter makes his pitch in Spanish and English.
Recruiter: We are accepting applicants. We really need people.
Considering the high unemployment rate, you might expect that people would line up for census jobs. But not in downtown Los Angeles.
Recruiter: We need 120 people, it’s estimated, 125. Well, we have less than 10.
Part of the challenge is that the census tries to hire from within the communities its counting. People are generally more comfortable opening the door and answering questions from a neighbor. But it can be a challenge to find local recruits from the inner city, especially in immigrant communities already suspicious of the government. On top of that, the census needs people with various foreign-language skills.
It’s no small effort, says Michael Carpenter, census office manager in downtown Los Angeles.
Michael Carpenter: This is the largest peace time operation in the history of the United States.
Between now and the end of April, his office will hire a thousand people. On May 1, census workers will start going door-to-door, chasing down the people who don’t send back their census forms.
Carpenter: We’re looking for people daytime, evening and weekends. Especially evenings and weekends. Flexibility is important.
To be eligible, you need to be over 18, submit to a background check and pass a multiple choice test.
I caught up with some applicants who just took the test at a library in Hollywood. Forty-one-year old Derek Livingstone works part time at a theater. He took the job out of a sense of civic commitment.
Derek Livingstone: I really believe in it. Otherwise, I’d go work in a bank somewhere. Or try to work in a bank somewhere.
Jasmine Mascorro is 18. She likes the money.
Jasmine Mascorro: I’m a student, struggling. It’s hard in these economic times so, $17 an hour sounds really good right now.
Some applicants already have jobs, like Nick Bleich.
Nick Bleich: I’m a taxi driver; I have to hustle at my job. So this seems more chilled out, more relaxed.
At another testing site — a job center in downtown Los Angeles — applicants were more desperate. A few had been unemployed for more than a year.
Preston White was laid off about six months ago.
Preston White: It’s been treacherous out here. You have to just take what you can get right now. I have to pay rent, I have to eat. So I don’t have time to be picky right now.
He’s looking for a job to get him through the next couple months. That’s about the most he can expect.
Census office manager Michael Carpenter says all the positions are temporary.
Carpenter: They can last anywhere from a few days to a few months.
By the end of September, Carpenter and his staff will all have to find new jobs.
In Los Angeles, I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.
We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.
Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.
In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.
Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.