WASHINGTON – The Census Bureau has tested only one-third of the applicants it hopes to get as enumerators in Baltimore, a job that has been called critical to the state securing its share of federal funds over the next decade.
The bureau had hoped to test 15,000 applicants in Baltimore by early April, and to hire 3,500 enumerators from that pool. Bureau officials said there is no cause for alarm yet, even though they have only tested about 5,000 applicants so far.
“In Baltimore, we haven’t had as many individuals as we would like,” said Barbara Nichols, a regional census recruiter in Philadelphia. “But if we had to do the enumeration today, we could go out and get the job done.”
Testing and hiring in the rest of the state is largely on target. But the situation in Baltimore is causing some concern in the Governor’s Census 2000 Office.
“If there’s not enough enumerators, they [some residents] won’t get counted,” said Kate Philips, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Census 2000 Office. “There really are a lot of people to be counted in Baltimore.”
She said that Baltimore has areas where it is difficult for enumerators to find and accurately count residents. Philips said “23,000 people were missed in Baltimore City alone in 1990, that’s a quarter of people in the entire state that were missed.”
Census forms translate into big bucks for states, which get federal aid based largely on the numbers of people counted in the decennial census. For each census form returned in 1990, the Census Bureau estimates that Maryland got about $1,000 in federal funds.
Both the state and the Census estimate that about 100,000 Marylanders were missed in the 1990 census, an undercount that cost the state about $1 billion in potential federal funds over the decade. In that census, 30 percent of Marylanders did not mail back their census forms, the 38th-worst return rate of the 50 states.
Enumerators are supposed to make sure an undercount does not happen again, by collecting data in person from individuals who do not return forms by mail. That is why officials have been vigorously recruiting potential enumerators.
“We mailed out 750,000 job-offering inserts throughout state in water bills, cable bills … and we advertised at the [unemployment office],” said Philips.
Census officials, too, have been scouting for potential enumerators.
“We’re canvassing neighborhoods, distributing information about jobs that are available,” said Fernando Armstrong, regional census director.
While pay for enumerators in 1990 hovered around minimum wage, the jobs this year will pay $10 to $14 an hour, depending on the area of the state. A waiver will be granted to anyone receiving welfare or medical assistance, so they can work as enumerators without jeopardizing their benefits.
State and Census officials said they have recruited everyone from the elderly to college students, and have set up a toll-free number — 1-888-325- 7733 — for people seeking information on jobs.
“We’re trying to hire people who look like their neighborhoods,” said Nichols, the regional census recruiter.
“I don’t think that we realize how many facts of our lives are based on the numbers that are collected in the census,” she said. “Almost everything we do is dependent on this.”
Other areas of the state are on target to meet their enumerator-testing goals. Some areas like Riverdale and Forestville in Prince George’s County have exceeded their testing goal by hundreds of applicants, Nichols said.
So far, the Census has tested 45,000 of the 55,000 applicants it hopes to get for about 10,000 enumerator jobs across Maryland. Census administrators test more enumerators than they need because the turnover rate is so high, and they need a reserve of workers to take place of the ones who may quit.
About 350 enumerators have already been hired in Maryland, distributing census forms to homes in rural areas that do not have street addresses. The remaining thousands of enumerators will be hired by April 19, Nichols said.