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The 2020 Census is Coming!

As we approach the year 2020, all of the preparatory activities for the US decennial census are ramping up. This week, with the partnership of the Poynter Institute and the support of the Ford Foundation and the Annie E Casey Foundation, Georgetown conducted a 1.5 day Census 2020 workshop for journalists.

Because a census comes only once in a decade, few remember the what, how, and why of the event. Our workshop was aimed at giving the journalists a deep dive into the various operations of the census and what stories are likely to be important as the months transpire.

A census requires design and careful implementation of thousands of details. It is the only event in the society that includes everyone. It requires a large staff of devoted workers. It is a national ceremony that occurs once a decade. That is the topic of this post.

In the 2010 Census over 600,000 people were employed to conduct the various stages of the census. This is the single largest civilian deployment of human resources. Indeed, it exceeds the sizes of military deployments.

Employment as a Census worker is public service. The founding fathers placed the Census in Article 1 of the US Constitution. They invented this scientific method of assuring that the lower house of the legislature would be allocated to represent the population distribution of the fledging but growing nation. They were serious that the census count every resident, levying a $20 fine for nonparticipation (over $500 in current value). The census retains a legal requirement to participate, but large efforts are mounted to raise voluntary participation.

The census seeks civic participation on an unrivaled scale. Communities throughout the country form voluntary groups, called Complete Count Committees. Over $500 million will be spent on media – as small as weekly in-language newspapers and local in-language radio stations for new immigrant groups and as large as national network television.

Everyone is counted at their usual place of residence as of April 1, 2020. Most households will receive snail mail envelope inviting them to complete a short questionnaire online; some will be mailed a paper questionnaire; a small number will be visited by an enumerator. Even mobile phones can be used to complete the Census form. If the first mode of request is not successful, the large nonresponse followup stage begins, with hundreds of thousands of enumerators, lasting until mid-Summer 2020.

The Census Bureau is now taking applications for a large variety of jobs, from checking on the completeness of the list of addresses to office activities preparing for the nonresponse followup stage. The pay rate for the District of Columbia is $25 per hour for a census taker.

These are great jobs for university students because they offer flexible hours; they assure that one will meet people in the community in vastly different kinds of environments; and they provide the satisfaction that one is contributing to the common good.

Over the coming weeks and months, we need to get the word out to Georgetown students about this opportunity.

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