MINNEAPOLIS — Recruiters and office workers at the U.S. Census Bureau outpost in Minneapolis could hardly set their phones down on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
There was still much work to be done that morning, even as the start date for the 2020 census neared. The agency still seeks approximately 8,400 applicants for field and office positions throughout Minnesota.
"We’re only 50 days away from the census at this point in time," said state Demographic Center census operations director Andrew Virden. "So it’s definitely go time."
The Census Bureau plans to begin mailing questionnaires to Minnesotans in mid-March. For the first time, participants can respond by phone and computer.
Still, officials said that living, breathing census takers will have an important role to play in the ensuing count. Where households fail to complete the questionnaires sent to them by mail, the takers — or enumerators, as they are officially called — will travel to follow up in person.
The latest in a series of recruitment fairs was held Tuesday at the Census Bureau's field office in Minneapolis. Similar events are planned to be held at the Rochester office at 300 11th Ave. NW census office on Feb. 12 and at the Duluth office at 325 W. First St., Suite 200. Both will begin at 10 a.m.
Officials said Tuesday that the Census Bureau is 80% of the way toward its goal of approximately 38,000 applicants. Response rates to census job postings, many of which are temporary and part time, have varied by locale.
Sam Fettig, the Minnesota partnership coordinator for the Census Bureau, said the need for census workers is strongest in Greater Minnesota. The Twin Cities area, by contrast, has already surpassed its target number of applicants.
Officials said the region's census offices are poised to spend the next few weeks finalizing applications and extending job offers.
The dearth of unclaimed census jobs was such that some regions of Minnesota chose to raise wages for them. It was difficult for the bureau to compete for labor in a relatively tight job market, Virden said. Last December, Minnesota's unemployment rate measured slightly below the national rate at 3.3%.
In Hennepin County, Minnesota's most populous county, pay rates currently range from $25 an hour to $27.50. Officials said the wage hike appears to have successfully attracted more job seekers.
By hiring workers locally, the Census Bureau hopes to reach Minnesotans in rural and remote parts of the state who might be more inclined to answer the door for someone they recognize. Officials hope the same strategy will pay off in ethnic minority communities, which have historically been difficult to survey.
In another first for the census, enumerators will be able to fill out questionnaires electronically. Despite the recent complications that newer technology caused for those tallying the Iowa caucuses results, officials said there is no need to worry about the safety or integrity of census data.
"Our systems are secure. We’ve got great cybersecurity protocols in place," Fettig said.
While the 2020 census will be the first to make use of technology in the field, Fettig said, census data has been stored electronically for much longer.