In an open letter sent through the VA Blog, the U.S. Census Bureau is asking American military veterans to step up and serve their country once again. This time, it needs vets to take the national roll call.
Officials with the 2020 Census have had a difficult time finding the half-million or so workers they need to complete the mission of counting the number of people in the United States and gathering demographic data about where they live, what they do and how they fit into the greater American economy.
A strong economy is the most likely reason the bureau has had a difficult time staffing up. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. unemployment rate has been hovering around all-time lows. At the end of January, it sat at 3.6%.
The Census Bureau's outreach to veterans calls on former military members not just to become census takers, but to tell fellow veterans about the country's need, share materials with other vets and veteran organizations and -- most importantly -- respond to the census when the time comes.
Being a census taker is actually one of the most important jobs in the federal government. The decennial census determines the number of seats for each state in the U.S. House of Representatives, is used to draw legislative districts in each state, and helps determine how the federal government will distribute $675 billion in funds.
Any representative can be a victim of redistricting based on census data. High-profile Democratic congressman and onetime presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich of Ohio lost his House seat in 2010 to census redistricting. California is expected to lose a seat for the first time ever in 2020. Meanwhile, Texas is expected to gain a seat or two.
Census takers don't just count heads. They gather information on Americans' income, education, insurance coverage, housing quality, crime victimization, computer usage and other demographic information. According to the Census Bureau website, the information collected also covers the health of the U.S. economy as a whole; it publishes more than 400 reports every year.
Despite the job's importance, the Government Accountability Office says the pay just isn't enough for some parts of the country. In sparsely populated areas, census workers' pay can start between $15 and $17 per hour. In more populated areas like New York City or more remote areas like Anchorage, Alaska, the pay can be as high as $28 per hour.
Those who do apply are running into delays caused by background checks, according to Albert Fontenant, the associate director for Decennial Census Programs.
"Our challenge is not getting people to apply, it's just getting them through the system," he told NPR in 2019. "We've added staff to the clearance process, and we have reviewed our procedures to make it more efficient."
Calling veterans to serve in the Census Bureau makes sense, because many of them will be able to pass background checks relatively quickly and easily, given the availability of their personal information.
The census results will have a significant effect on the lives of veterans, as the Department of Veterans Affairs uses census data to plan for emerging needs and to develop programs to address them.
The federal government has been required to take the census since the Constitution was adopted in 1788. The first census was taken by Thomas Jefferson's administration in 1790 and was last conducted by the Obama administration in 2010.
To learn more about joining the Census Bureau or to see what jobs are available in your area, visit 2020census.gov/en/jobs.
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at email@example.com.
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