Why Does Allegheny County Have A Shortage Of Census Workers?


2020 Census Logo | Credit: Plano.gov

Jonah Woolley, Politics Writer

On April 1st of this year, all across the country, the 2020 census will begin. It’s a monumental undertaking, as it has always been, meant to collect information on every person living in the United States for the federal government.

The census is incredibly important, as it determines many aspects of the next decade, including the distribution of congressional seats to states, the drawing of congressional districts, and how government resources are allocated throughout the country.

Given how big the operation is, the Census Bureau has a lot of preparation work to do, both locally and nationally. There’s continued printing of forms, setting up of offices, and, most importantly, hiring of workers.

A lot of people are needed to carry out the census — 635,000 people were involved in 2010 — and most of those are temporary workers. The Census Bureau goes city to city and tries to hire people locally for a few months to assist the census effort by making phone calls, processing online data, or knocking on people’s doors.

Census workers get paid $23.50 an hour, get to decide their own hours, and can work in whatever environment they want, making it good work for those in need of it, but reports have shown that in Allegheny County, we’re actually short on census workers.

The Census Bureau recently had to up its pay by 30% (from $18.50 an hour) to attract more workers in Allegheny County, and there is still a shortage, but why? The region has been able to produce the workers it needed before, and it’s important work that many are willing to do, so why are we struggling to get workers?

There are a variety of reasons, but the one that the Census Bureau has suggested the most is unemployment.

In a recent article on their website, the Census Bureau wrote that unemployment has been low in recent years, which is making it hard for them to get workers. By its nature, the census uses only temporary workers that it employs for a few months, and if someone is already employed, its difficult to get them to take on a temporary job.

Therefore, as the Census Bureau wrote, “…the lower the unemployment rate, the harder it can be to recruit.” If more people have jobs, then there are fewer people available to do the temporary work they need.

The Census Bureau has predicted this will be a problem nationwide, as the unemployment rate now is less than half of what it was during the 2010 census, and this is also the case in Allegheny County.

Here, unemployment was at 8.3% during the 2010 census, but has gone down to 4.1%, significantly shrinking the pool of potential census workers.

It’s not just unemployment, however. A variety of other things can play into there being a shortage of the kinds of workers the Census Bureau needs.

Contractor Momentum states that, alongside unemployment, factors like an aging workforce, racial and economic demographic changes, and increased investment in fields such as technology, business, and healthcare, which drives young people to go to college, can decrease the amount of available labor for temporary work.

Concerning an aging workforce, data shows that is not the case in Allegheny County. Our median age in 2010, during the last census, was 41.1, and it’s now 40.8, showing that it’s actually going down, and our population isn’t aging out of temporary work.

There have been other demographic changes, however, which could be responsible for a shortage of census workers.

Average income is on the rise, from $47,490 in 2010 to $59,881 now. This could mean trouble for the census, as wealthier individuals tend to have higher levels of education, and are less likely to be looking for temporary work, but instead permanent employment.

There’s also the push for tech and healthcare investment. Many people have been talking about Pittsburgh’s tech boom — how it’s currently on track to be the next Silicon Valley — and there are reports of significant tech investment. The same goes for healthcare, where UPMC has become world-renowned in heart surgery and has attracted a lot of attention to the area.

This has grown the amount of employment in high-paying industries here, with the share of tech, healthcare, and business jobs increasing by about 10.3% as a share of the Allegheny County workforce over the last decade.

The push for students to go to college due to investments from these industries has also driven down potential workers for the census. 14% more students have bachelor’s degrees or higher now than in 2010, showing that our population is going into more educated positions, and aren’t as willing to work for the census.

Overall, this census worker shortage is mostly due to economic development in Allegheny County. It’s happening because we have lower unemployment and higher numbers of people going to college, which is driving down numbers of low income people who would be looking for temporary work.

While this is good news for our economy, it is also quite disruptive, as the census still needs to get done and it’s a lot harder without a sufficient number of workers.

The Census Bureau is still currently on the lookout for workers and is requesting applications from anyone living in Allegheny Country looking for work between April and July of this year. The application can be found on their website here.