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End Of Census Sends Temps Looking For Jobs

Census workers inform ethnic Russians of the upcoming census count in New York City's Brighton Beach neighborhood.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
Census workers inform ethnic Russians of the upcoming census count in New York City's Brighton Beach neighborhood.

Treasa Brown's census job came along at just the right time. Her previous job was running a home daycare program. But after her son, James, was shot to death a week before his 22nd birthday, she could no longer muster the patience to work with children all day.

That's when Brown, 44, went to work as a clerk, and later a recruiter, for the U.S. Census.

"I must say that it really made a big difference to get out and around people," Brown says. "It helped calm my nerves and I was able to stay focused."

Just a few months ago, more than half a million Americans were working for the census. That was a bright spot in the economy. But as the 2010 national headcount winds down, most of those jobs have disappeared, and many former census takers are looking for work in what's still a tough labor market.

Brown and her husband are raising five grandkids -- all age six and younger -- including three of her son's children.

Brown has had more time with them since her census job ended in early July. She's applied for office work, and had a couple of interviews. But nothing has come through yet.

Her unemployment benefits have run out. And Brown's husband is in poor health and can't work. So the family is living with relatives.

A Break From Unemployment

Kevin Schroder, 57, got hired as an interviewer for the Census Bureau in April. He had been out of work for nearly two and a half years since losing an advertising job. He says the temporary job provided a welcome break from unemployment:

"For as long as I've been out of work…something that really maybe grates on a person the most is when you wake up in the morning you don't have to be anywhere."

Schroder's position ended in mid-August so that feeling has returned -- along with the job search.

Closing The Doors

Most census workers have been let go, and offices across the country will shut their doors completely by mid-November.

As workers head back out into the labor market, they're up against sluggish job growth and national unemployment rates still well above 9 percent.

"I think what people are finding is that the competition is still stiff, there's still a lot of people looking for work and there aren't as many opportunities as they hoped there would be," says Steve Langerud, a career coach who works at DePauw University in Indiana.

But Langerud says former census employees have at least one advantage -- a recent work history.

Brown hopes her experience will help her get hired soon. She says when she has too much free time, she finds herself thinking more about her son's death. And she longs for a permanent home for the children. She says the kids ask, "'Grandma, when are we gonna get in our house? When are we gonna go home?' And that's why I really want to get in the workforce, so we can all get up under our own roof and live like we had before."

For now -- with the census job just another line on her resume -- Brown says she's trying to hold on long enough to land that next position.

Copyright 2023 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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