The U.S. Census Bureau is urging Hawaii residents to apply for jobs in an effort to ensure every state resident is counted in its 2020 survey.

The agency has met only 53% of its statewide recruiting goal. The need is especially great in Maui and Kauai counties where the Census Bureau has hit only about 39% of its recruiting goal.

“I’m a little concerned for those islands, Maui and Kauai,” said Malissa Kaawa, Hawaii area manager for the bureau. “It’s not dire yet, but I’d like to feel more comfortable with a bigger pool to pull from.”

U.S. Census Sample Mail Form 2020
The U.S. Census helps determine federal funding, district lines and congressional representation. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The bureau is aiming to hire about 3,000 temporary employees to work throughout the duration of the census, which kicks off in mid-March, but is trying to recruit thousands more than that.

“Our recruiting goals are very ambitious to get the biggest application pool possible,” Kaawa said.

To incentivize people to apply, the bureau has increased the pay rate from a range of $16.50-$20 an hour to $20-$24. Census workers are part-time and can work other jobs in their off time. Because Hawaii obtained a federal waiver, working for the bureau does not interfere with SNAP benefits, Kaawa said.

In addition to daytime employees, the bureau is seeking people who can work nights and weekends as enumerators, census employees who knock on doors to ensure residents are counted. People who speak non-English languages are especially encouraged to apply.

It’s a great job opportunity,” Kaawa said. “Pay off those holiday bills.” 

The attrition rate among applicants is high, according to Kaawa. People back out for personal and family reasons, or just because it’s not a good fit.

“To knock on a stranger’s door, not everyone is cut out for it,” she said. 

Applicants need to pass a federal background check and swear an oath to keep confidential the census information they collect.

There was a backlog last year in the background check process, Kaawa said, but it has been sped up. Applicants who submit their fingerprints right away should get a response within a week or two, Kaawa said.

Hawaii’s census response rate is among the lowest in the nation. In 2010, the state’s mail participation rate – the percentage of forms mailed back by households that received them – was 68%. Maui County had the lowest response rate of the islands with 51%.

That lack of participation has real consequences. For each percent left uncounted, the state loses $37 million a year for the next 10 years, according to the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.

That loss can have a major impact on the dollars available to the state to support a wide range of services, said Robbie Kane, program director for the Hawaii Community Foundation, which was contracted to do census outreach.

“The work that federal dollars support is as far-reaching as school lunch, student loans, Medicare, road improvements, foster care, crime victim assistance, water systems, infrastructure,” she said. “Financially, it’s a big issue for us.”

Census data is important for community planning purposes too, Kane said. It’s also used for redrawing district maps and to determine how many representatives each state sends to Congress, although Hawaii is not likely to see a change in the size of its congressional delegation.

Residents should keep an eye out for census invitations in the mail starting in mid-March, Kaawa said. Every household should get one by April 1. Kaawa encouraged residents to respond promptly either online, by phone or by mail.

“The more self-response there is, the less followup work there is for census takers,” Kaawa said. 

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