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Sari Anderson: A job that counts

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Sari Anderson, assistant division chief for the Field Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, talks about the hiring of temporary workers for the 2010 census.

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By Carol Morello
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sari Anderson is the assistant chief of the field division, in charge of recruiting and hiring hundreds of thousands of temporary workers in the next few months for the 2010 Census. She has worked for the Census Bureau since 1996.

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Q You are going to have hired close to 1 million people in the next few months. What do most of the jobs entail?

The majority of census jobs are enumerator jobs, meaning people who go out and knock on doors and follow up with people who haven't returned their census forms. They conduct an interview -- short, 10 questions -- and make sure we get accurate, complete census data for the whole country.

Why do you need so many people to do this?

We have a short time period in which to get the job done; just about 10 weeks or so. There are a lot of people who don't return the forms. There's also a lot of vacant housing where we have to go out and verify whether someone actually lived there or not.

The last census was done during an economic boom time. You sent recruiters to job fairs, almost having to beg people to come work for you. How has the recession affected recruiting.

In some ways, it's made it easier to recruit. But we still recruit at the neighborhood level. We still have areas of the country, even very small neighborhoods within certain geographic areas, where it is difficult to recruit and get people to work. We're about two weeks ahead of schedule right now in terms of meeting our goal. We've recruited about 2.4 million people as of last week. Overall, we're doing well, but there are still pockets around the country where we're having difficulty getting to the numbers we need.

How do you pick from 2.4 million applicants the people you're going to hire. What characteristics are you looking for?

A. They take an employment test. We rank them by test score. We include veterans preference points if persons were serving during certain campaigns. We look at things like the number of hours they're available to work and the times of day they're available to work. All the information is entered from the application form, and then we can select from some of the criteria within the application. Another significant criterion for non-response follow-up in some neighborhoods is language abilities. So, we'll select based on language skills.

There's a series of ads that will run in the spring urging people to be nice to census takers when they come to their doors. Is that a significant problem? Are there some people who are not nice when people come representing the federal government and knock on their doors to ask them questions?

There are people who threaten federal employees. There are people who just want their privacy and don't want us to knock on their door or to go on their property. But the majority of people aren't like that. It's a very small minority.


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