Updated on 08.01.14

Census Worker: A Brilliant Part-Time Opportunity

Trent Hamm

One issue that I hear about from readers on an almost daily basis is the issue of how to find work opportunities for all sorts of specific needs. A stay-at-home mom wants to pick up a few hours here and there. A retiree is getting stir crazy and wants to find some work for idle hands to do while earning a few dollars. Here’s an interesting solution to that very problem.

With the dawning of 2010 comes the once-per-decade United States Census – and with it comes the need for hundreds of thousands of part-time workers to help with local census results. Bob writes in:

In the Simple Dollar you have often told people to find a second job to help dig out from debt. I thought you might be able to write about the positions available from the US Census Bureau. In my area, Suffolk Cty Long Island NY, the hourly rate is $18/hr!!!

I was intrigued, so I called up Jane, an old friend of mine who has worked with the census in the past. I asked her a number of questions about what exactly this opportunity might entail for people who are looking for work right now (and with a 10% unemployment rate, that’s a lot of people). Here’s the key parts of the information I found.

Who can work for the Census Office? Pretty much everyone can find a job working for the census. The US Census website offers a thorough guide for job seekers, including specific information for full time workers, retirees, and students and recent graduates. Since most of the work is clerical, they’re usually fairly flexible with schedules, which means it might work well for a stay-at-home parent who wants to pick up some hours here and there, for example.

What exactly does a census worker do? Census workers in local communities have the job of making sure people are actually filling out their 2010 census forms accurately and in a timely fashion. This means that workers will have to do things like locate residences, explain what the census is all about and why we fill out the forms, help people fill out their forms, record the answers that people give, and make sure that those forms are filed correctly. Other workers have more clerical tasks: organizing submitted forms, mailing them, and so forth. Jane gave the strong impression that most people are given a list of names and addresses and are tasked to help the people on that list to fill out their census forms. This means finding where they live, stopping by, talking with them, helping them fill out the forms, then returning the completed forms to the census office.

How good is the pay? It varies a lot throughout the country, but the pay is surprisingly good for part-time work. In Iowa, for example, workers usually start at around $12 per hour. On top of that, you’re reimbursed at a very nice rate for any miles you put on your personal vehicle doing census work – driving to homes and the like.

Why are you writing about this on The Simple Dollar? People need work. With “official” unemployment at 10% and real unemployment approaching 20% in some areas, a lot of people are hurting. On top of that, there are many people out there struggling to make ends meet with their full time jobs. For both of these groups, census work is something that they can probably handle without additional training, plus it’s flexible work that pays pretty well.

There are a lot of poor paying jobs floating around out there. On top of that, there are even more scams identifying ways for people to make money that don’t really work. Census work is one of the few legitimate part time work opportunities that actually works for almost everyone – it’s something I myself would do if I needed some extra income.

How can I get started? The first step is to contact your local census office. Just find the one closest to you and give them a call.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. lurker carl says:

    Better yet, move to Boston where they pay $22 per hour. Too bad about the cost of living.

  2. Johanna says:

    Wow – it’s almost as if government spending during a recession can create jobs and stimulate the economy. Somebody’d better tell Congress! :)

  3. guinness416 says:

    I read a blog post yesterday by someone who’d done the test. She found it extremely easy. Can’t remember where, but it’s one of a few floating around. My sister in law just did the test too and was told that they are also looking for foreign language skills (which she has) although this probably depends where you’re located.

  4. momof4 says:

    I called on this last year. The school sent home flyers saying that there were temp part time positions available for 2010 census takers. Test taking and training was last spring and fall. I couldn’t even take the test. The guy from the census bureau said that they were flooded with calls and had filled all of their positions in our area. Wonder if they are still accepting applications?

  5. Little House says:

    I looked into this a few weeks ago, in California the pay is $17/hour. Not too shabby! I work as a substitute teacher and my hours aren’t guaranteed, I am still thinking about this as an option. I believe that most of the potential employees will be needed in February. My father-in-law got a really good job with the census as a project manager, and that’s what he had mentioned. Thanks for reminding me about this!

  6. Cynthia says:

    My recently unemployed (Thanksgiving) husband has already applied, taken the test and been offered a job at the census office! In our area the pay is a little lower ($12.50 and up) but it’s still better than nothing. We couldn’t take the job they offered (a trainer position during the day but he put on his application night and weekend hours only since he’s a stay at home dad during the day) but they’re keeping him on the list for when the night/weekend work starts up. Hopefully it will work for us!

  7. Greg says:

    A friend of mine tried doing this a few months ago. She works from home and has a young child to care for. She took the tests and believed that the hours would be flexible–evenings or weekends around her schedule–but the reality was they required her to go to training from 8-5 for a week or two, and then even when that finished, the hours were not that flexible at all. She couldn’t do that and still be home when her daughter got home from school.

    This might be a good idea for people who have open schedules, but at least here in New Jersey, it won’t work for “A stay-at-home mom [who] wants to pick up a few hours here and there.”

  8. kristine says:

    You have to take a test, and then are assigend or accepted based on test score.

    I took the test and aced it, but every last one of the required 9-5 training sessions was on a achool day. None on school holidays. I am a teacher, and an excellent candidate, but I cannot take 4 days off of work to train. I am in Nassau County, LI, and as most of us get out ealry in the day, and are free all summer, it was ridiculous not to have a training session teachers could attend. They have a shortage of census workers in my area, and I want to do the job, but it has been made impossible by lack of foresight on the staffing committee’s part. Poor management. Even part time teachers have no opportunity!

  9. Michele says:

    My husband is a census worker for his part time ‘retirement’ job. It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. He has nearly impossible ‘quotas’ that he has to meet each month, and he has to check out places in heavy snow that are seasonal cabins in our county on a routine basis. Apparently, the Census headquarters people assume that the census is all done in nice suburban neighborhoods! They have no concept of what it is to live in a rural area! He must go alone and in very remote areas (and can’t tell me where he’s going )that are know for tweakers, and people who hate the government. He routinely gets called terrible names, has to do surveys standing on the steps of a house in the snow or rain, has doors slammed in his face and has been threatened with weapons and dogs. He’s a retired police officer, so he carries his own protection with him, but seriously, sometimes it’s not worth $12.50 an hour. Remember, he’s contacting people who refuse to send in the paper survey, after several mailings and several phone calls.
    He also did a week of training from 8-5 in a city that is 1200 miles away.
    But, in this economy, at least he has a part time job to supplement his retirement income and he’s able to handle it for the time being.

  10. Victoria says:

    I was really excited about working for the census until I found out that you have to attend a mandatory 5-day training. The training is paid, but there is no way my supervisor would let me take a week off of work. It’s frustrating because it sounds like a great second job.

  11. Stefanie says:

    My partner and I tried to get in to take the test all last Spring, and I couldn’t even talk to someone on the phone. i left messages but no one ever called me back. My guess is they were swamped to begin with and that the positions have long been filled by now, since this starts in just a few weeks.

  12. kristine says:

    Stephanie… you are so right! It took 15 phone calls to even find out where the test was. The listed numbers have a lot of autobot responses, which send you another number, to an uniformed person, then to another office, which then sends you back to autobot. Finally I called around to local libraries,and found out a test date from a librarian who knew someone else taking the test at a local college.

  13. kristine says:

    Oh, and let me clarify something. I and all the teachers I know have flexible time in the summer; we are not “free”. I spend about 20-30 hours a week writing new curricula, budgeting, gathering lesson materials,and re-organizing the classroom. And we also have to take 175 professional development hours every 5 years- paid for by the teacher- on our own time. It’s like continuous college your entire career. Just dont want anyone to jump on that mis-statement. Summers off- no. Summers make your own hours-yes.

  14. Cat says:

    I took the test this winter. I had called the previous summer, got put on a waiting list, and got called about testing in November. The test was easy for me (college educated, professional). I got a perfect score and am on their call-back list. If what people say about the training sessions is true that seems short-sighted, but I’ll figure it out if and when I get called.

    Around here they stopped taking calls about testing in early fall b/c their waiting list was so long.

  15. A.M.B.A. says:

    I currently work for the Census in a job similar to #9 Michelle’s husband, which is similar to the working conditions for the 2010 census. (Although I’m in a small town setting.) The need now for the 2010 Census is mainly to do No Response Follow-Ups – contacting the households after April 1 that did not reply by mail. The hourly pay and milage reimbursement both are good for a temporary part-time job. The hours are NOT that flexible. You will have a quota and are expected to work days, evenings and weekends to make that quota.
    It is an ideal job for someone WITHOUT CHILDREN under age 12. All of my coworkers are in their 50’s and 60’s, without having to care for children or grandchildren. JMHO.

  16. A.M.B.A. says:

    Just wanted to add, unlike #9 Michelle’s husband, 98% of the people I have come in contact with in person or phone, have been pleasant. Now and then, (for me-1 or 2 times per year), a person has been obstinate. My supervisor will take over at that point.

    I do enjoy the job and love the flexibility of the hours.

  17. A.M.B.A. says:

    Sorry-me again… By hours being flexible or not, I mean you can’t just choose your hours, for example, “I can’t work weekends, or I’m only available during the day/evening”. One needs to be available SOMETIME during the day, evening and weekend hours to get the job done.

  18. Henry says:

    CAREFUL! If you owe back taxes, defaulted student loans, other things to the Federal Gov’t that you have no intention of paying, they will seize your pay for Census work. If you have no intention of paying these things, you’ll waste your time working, as the wages put towards the debt will not be noticed due to the interest exceeding what you paid down. On the other hand, if you’d like to try to pay down the debt, go ahead and work, but you better resume payments shortly after the work stops, or else it will have been for nothing.

  19. Brittany says:

    What kind of person has no intention of paying their debts? That’s awful.

  20. Brittany says:

    (And you deserve to have your wages garnish.)

  21. Henry says:

    LMAO, Brittany. LMAO that anyone judges people in this economy like that. Yeah, go get you a census job, report the income to the Welfare so your Food Stamps dry up because you are working now but you aren’t seeing any of the income! Now you are working and have no food!

  22. Amy K. says:

    I’m not sure when training starts, but I was just looking at the census site and it looks like the door-to-door part will not start until April or later. I’m not sure how many people can wait that long to bring in the extra money, but for those that can I’m sure it will help!


  23. Henry says:

    You know, a lot of people that owes student loans and taxes work some under the table jobs that don’t get reported, work just enough (I think under $3500 earnings per year) so that someone else can claim them on their taxes, and resort to welfare and other things to avoid being held accountable. It’s what has to be done.
    There is no way you can make it at an $8/hr job, which ruins your chances for assistance and pay back debt like that.
    You can get assistance on gas, electric and rent/mortage once a year. And be on Food Stamps, TANF, state insurance and go to food pantries.
    It really is the way to a frugal life. Everything is accounted for, it saves you a ton of expenses and it ensures you spend only on the important things. Why do I have to have hundreds of thousands in the bank? Some people here do, and they will still only use one square of toilet paper and never go out to eat.

  24. Daddy Paul says:

    Here in Michigan where real unemployment is about 25% there will be no shortage of census workers.

  25. Ari Herzog says:

    Interesting article and comments. As I am a newly-elected city councilor seeking part-time opportunities, this sounds like something I could handle easily. Thanks.

  26. Ari Herzog says:

    Addendum: I talked to my regional Census office and there’s a test scheduled for tonight so I’ve signed up. FYI: In lieu of the interactive map linked above, call toll-free 866-861-2010 and follow the promots to type in your zipcode, which will automatically dial your local office–as the map isn’t clear which office serves which communities in denser regions.

  27. done that says:

    While I can understand the frustrations expressed in the comments, I worked for both the 1980 and the 2000 Census and had a marvelous time. Both times I was unemployed and it was a perfect filler. I was frustrated by the 9-5 testing the second time around. It was very inconvenient and I agree with all those teachers who posted. What a waste of good candidates. I also agree that I had to go to a lot of iffy places and talk to people who didn’t want anything to do with the government, but I personally find that kind of challenge fun. And the bottom line is that if it is dangerous you are allowed to put the person down as unobtainable. I learned so much both times about the communities I lived in. I will still recommend it to someone looking for temporary work.

  28. Harm says:

    Yeah, Henry, if you don’t mind being
    a thief. The idea IS, if you are working,
    you use that money to buy food. I’m sorry
    if that’s hard to understand.

  29. Henry says:

    Who are you calling a thief? You don’t know.

  30. Noadi says:

    A friend of mine lost his job to downsizing last year so he applied for a job with the census to help pay the bills while he’s looking for a new job. Also keeping him from driving his wife crazy because he’s the type of guy who needs to be busy. If I could drive I’d apply, I can always use a little extra money (on the other hand I don’t have car expenses which saves me a lot of cash).

  31. brad says:

    thanks for the heads up trent. took a few hours off work to head to a testing facility tomorrow. fingers crossed for an office position.

  32. This is a great opportunity for one of my friends that was reduced to part-time at his job. Looks like jobs in the metro Atlanta area pay anywhere from $13-$18.75 an hour.

    If I could do it only on the weekends, might be a nice opportunity for myself too.

  33. Ryan says:

    Called and scheduled a test for next week. Hoping for the best! The pay is fantastic for those who’ll be graduating HS this spring.

  34. Shevy says:

    Or how about being a Returning Officer for an election? Elections at every governmental level happen a lot more frequently than a census, also pay decently, require a limited amount of time (although you have to be available literally all day on the day of the election) and allow you to be involved in the electoral process.

  35. Henry says:

    I work every election. I work primary and general, we have one year without an election every four years. Depending on position, you can make between $85-120 for 12 hours of being absolutely glued to the polling place. You should also be there 1-1/2 to 2 hours before, and stay until things are wrapped up. You may also have to report to the clerk’s office until you are released, depending on position, and that may take up to four hours. You may also have to attend a 1-1/2 to 2 hour training session before election day, without pay. You can also claim mileage and a small meal stipend for lunch and dinner on election day.
    The good news about this is that your paycheck will come from the county, and is not reported to the IRS as income. It is not subject to seizure by the Federal or State Gov’t if you owe those entities, but if you owe child support or have some other judgement against you at county level, you are SOL.

  36. Henry says:

    Just another little way to make some money to get you through that doesn’t have to be reported or declared to the gov’t or those pesky debt collectors.

  37. Amanda says:

    @Henry – Wow, just wow. Any more tips on how to cheat the system?

  38. Bonnie says:

    Some of the gripes that people have mentioned are really location-specific. If you’re interested in doing this, you should really call your local census office to see what kinds of positions and hours they’re offering. I called my local office last week, had no issue getting through, and took the test this past Monday (very easy 28-question test, BTW). Here in Honolulu, pay is $17/hr and will start in late March. You walk around your neighborhood, knock on doors and try to get census info from people who haven’t bothered to fill out the census yet. Over here, our census office estimates only 70% of our state population was counted in the 2000 census. So, they’re taking all the help they can get and are willing to work w/ workers’ schedules, although census-taking will mainly be done on evenings and weekends. Also, depending on your neighborhood, our office said to expect 2-8 weeks worth of work. It all depends how many homes in your neighborhood actually send the census form back on their own.

  39. Scoobey says:

    Henry: Serious question:

    How do you know they will seize your census earnings if you owe back taxes? I mean, it seems logical that they could cross-reference your social security number, but we all know the federal government isn’t perfectly efficient. So I’m really asking: are you certain of this? Has it happened to you or ?? Was it for taxes or for welfare (one might be tougher than the other)?

    I owe income taxes from nearly 10 years ago that I haven’t been able to pay. (I’ve met with them, they’ve stopped trying to collect for the time being, they just have liens on my house.) But I just landed a census job, and don’t want to screw things up (or waste my time). Thanks!

  40. littlepitcher says:

    Sounds great, if they have work-at-home opportunities. I cannot leave in the morning (answer phone for someone, and can call or do clerical for census) and work in the evenings.

  41. Redetta says:

    Concerning the Census, a young friend of mine in his early 20’s was laid off, fired, etc. a few months ago. He was told because of this no job with the Census. With all the people losing their jobs this doesn’t make sense to me.

  42. MelodyO says:

    Hey, I was a census taker for a few years! In Canada, but still. I’m in a city, so it was just a matter of walking around a designated area and getting the info, then tallying it up at the end. The worst part is making two, three, four attempts to catch somebody at home if they won’t call you back. It was good money, and not too stressful as long as you started early and gave yourself enough days to catch those elusive types.

  43. Jill says:

    I did this for the 2000, and lasted about two days after training. Even though they claimed that ‘we assign you to neighborhoods near you’ they kept giving us lists for the largely, um, extremely high poverty/high crime area on the other side of town. I decided to start my list for the day with the non-ghetto houses on it, spent 15 minutes getting gnawed on by the homeowner’s pomeranian (thought its teeth were too small to break through my pants and skin) went and dropped off my list at lunch, where I got talking with a group of other people, who also all seemed to have dog attack stories far worse than mine. At that point, I decided it just wasn’t worth the dog bites and urban youth encounters and handed in all my lists and gear and quit.

  44. Louise says:

    Thank you, Trent, for this great idea! I called my local office and arranged to take the test on Tues, 2/02. The pay is $17/hr. here in CA, so I’m hopeful!

  45. Jordan says:

    Dear Trent,
    just wanted to say how thoughtful and awesome you are for posting this information. I live in Australia so it’s not really anything I can access, but I really thought it was good of you to put this out there for people to hear about.

  46. brad says:

    took the test. test admin called and said i did exceptionally well. COME ON MANAGEMENT POSITION!!!

  47. anonymous says:

    Where I live the election working jobs are given as perks to the friends and family of the local party in power. Unless you are connected, it’s just not happening. Not my imagination- that is how my family all got their election jobs! Civil service is rife with patronage.

  48. almost there says:

    I agree with the census per the constitution, but not the intrusive information and demographic gathering. All the constitution requires is number of people per location. Not name, race, age, income, employment status, etc. Each time the census asks more and more information and frankly, it ain’t none of their business. I always complied in the past but don’t intend to this time. Here is an article from a libertarian site titled: The 2010 Census: Beware the State’s Assault on Privacy!


  49. Ryan says:

    I disagree, almost there.

    The census provides a ton of useful data for all kinds of organizations and whatnot.

    Anyway, I called and am scheduled to take the test next week. Lady told me that a lot of the work would be in the summer, which is perfect since I’ll just be getting out of high school.

  50. Lisa says:

    I tried to get through & couldn’t. I know people who took the test were told they would be hired & now haven’t been. These are people with the right qualifications too, retired from social work.Just too many people out of work to get any job here.

  51. Linked on my weekly roundup, post is under my name. Thanks! After reading this, I grabbed a slip of paper with the number from a poster in the post office…

  52. Marge Simpson says:

    Don’t be discouraged – my son JUST got called in late July, 2010 after taking the test in early 2010. It is going to be hot walking around Miami in late July heat, but he will have to do it. It is actually the perfect time because his job at the restaurant is very slow in the summer and he can actually keep both jobs. He still isn’t working in the field he went to college for, but can’t complain. Does anyone know if you can carry mace to protect yourself from dogs and such?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *