The decade’s biggest gig-worker hiring spree is about to begin

The decennial gig.
The decennial gig.
Image: AP/John Amis
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Americans looking for a short-term job or a side gig are in luck. The US government is about to hire about 500,000 workers for the decennial Census.

It is perhaps the US’s largest burst of short-term hiring, and the jobs pay pretty well. The hourly wage ranges from $13-30, depending on where you live. For example, in San Francisco, Census workers will make up to $30 per hour, while workers in Blain County, Montana will get $13.50. It’s better paid than driving an Uber—estimates suggest the typical driver makes $10-12 an hour—but less flexible. Most of the 2020 Census work can only be done on evenings and weekends.

The work takes place from March to July, with the peak of hiring for May. The job entails carrying around smartphones and laptops to people’s homes to have them fill out a survey. The survey takes less than 10 minutes.

I went through the application process and it took me about 15 minutes. There are no questions about working history, but applicants are asked multiple-choice questions about how they would describe their work style and attention to detail.

Unlike in 2010, when unemployment was unusually high in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the 2020 Census comes when the job market is humming. Still, the government expects it will be able to hire enough people by offering relatively high wages and making it easier to apply. This will be the first time people can apply online for Census gigs.

The work is meaningful, too. The Census count is used for allocating some $700 billion in federal government spending. Cities and regions that do a better job of counting their citizens get more of this money. It also impacts political power. The Census is used to determine the number of Congressional seats in states, and how political representation is divided within states.

Not everybody likes the job, though. A 2010 Census worker interviewed by AOL reported working long hours that he wasn’t paid for and a challenging supervisor. Working for the Census also has safety perils, given that one of the tasks is knocking on the doors of private homes where guests may be unwanted. Over 100 Census workers were attacked during their duties in 2010.