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The United States Census Bureau is struggling to find workers out of Platte County willing to assist in conducting the 2020 Census.

As of Tuesday, the county was at 40.3 percent of its recruitment goal for workers. Since Platte County and Columbus do not have a specific office devoted to the Census, the primary task for census workers would be knocking on doors and conducting the census.

“For the local area, it’s predominantly going to be the census takers, or that person who goes door to door to households that haven’t responded to the Census, either online or by filling out the paperwork,” said David Drozd, research coordinator for the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, the lead agency for the Nebraska State Data Center. “They want to hire these positions locally because they know the streets and the addresses and a lot of times, their neighbors who are living at that location. It just helps with that connection rather than bringing in people from outside the area to try to do this.”

One key reason as to why the Census Bureau is struggling to find workers to fill these holes comes from the strong job market. With more people comfortable in full-time positions, it can be difficult to bring people into work on the Census. This is in stark contrast to 2010 when the Census was held amid The Great Recession and it was quite easy to find people willing to take on some part-time work in order to make ends meet. Now, with a healthier economy, it’s much different.

“Unemployment rates were much higher than they are today,” Drozd said. “People were grasping at the opportunity for flexible, part-time work that these Census jobs offer. Here in 2020, we have a much more competitive environment for workers, and pretty much any business that you talk to or many of the chambers of commerce will say that the number one challenge right now for the workforce is just being able to find workers.”

Local dynamics play a key role in how Census positions are filled. Many counties in Nebraska and across the country are doing well at finding people to become Census takers. For instance, Hall County, home to Grand Island, has already surpassed its recruitment goal; however, other, more diverse places do struggle at times to meet those needs.

“We do, in general, see places that are a little bit more diverse tending to be a little bit low on the goal for applications that we’ve hit to date,” Drozd said. “Dawson County with Lexington is below 40 percent. Dakota County with South Sioux City is right at 40 percent just like Platte County. So, it really depends.”

The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce has joined forces with several other community agencies, like the East Central District Health Department and Centro Hispano, to form a Complete Count Committee that helps to facilitate involvement in the Census.

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Their primary goal is to provide resources for people taking the Census, and though helping promote the Census positions in Platte County isn't a priority, the committee is more than willing to inform people about them and push them in that direction.

“We will tell people about it and try to promote that the Census has jobs (in Columbus and Platte County),” said Eve Jacobson, marketing director for the Chamber. “That’s not necessarily the goal or what we’re required to do. It’s not so much our duty, but we do inform people, ‘Hey, they have these jobs.’”

In terms of positions within Platte County, Drozd said that the Census Bureau is looking for just about anyone, from young college students needing to find some money and time to get out of the house, to retired people looking for something to do to keep themselves busy. With Platte County striving to meet its goal for Census workers, there is a big need for anyone and everyone to step in and help out.

“If you have any foreign language skills, that is definitely a highly-sought-after trait,” Drozd said. “It can be pretty much any person who wants to get involved.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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