Every 10 years, the federal government organizes a temporary army of door-knockers to perform the nation's head count. And that means it needs more than a million citizens to drop everything and dedicate 40-hour workweeks to a civic-minded job that will last only a few months.
As the nation gears up for the 2010 Census, that sounds pretty good.
In one week, 1,350 people applied for a job with the Colorado Springs Local Census Office, which is responsible for collecting data from 46 counties in Colorado.
"At $10 an hour," office manager George Gutierrez says, "I'm getting a lot of college graduates and [those with] masters degrees."
The enthusiasm, of course, could be characterized as more of a sad commentary on the economy than a sign of a rising surge in patriotism. Recently, the Labor Department announced 7.2 percent of Americans are unemployed, a 16-year high.
"The economy is a bad thing, there's no question about that," Gutierrez says. "But for us, it's a blessing, kind of."
The center will recruit about 4,000 locals, but hire no more than 2,000 for different jobs in 2009 and 2010. Applicants must pass a test to be considered. There's a separate test for those who wish to be considered for management positions.
So far, Gutierrez says, most applicants are having no problem passing the basic employment test. He encourages all who are interested in a position to apply soon. And, he notes, while positions are temporary, there's a chance for workers to be rehired as new projects come up.
"We take the good workers and move them on," he says.
No personal information is released in a Census, but the study gives a broad view of the country's demographics and shows how America is growing. The Census also decides how much representation each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives, and how much federal money the state and local governments receive.
Each year, the federal government hands out $300 billion to communities across the nation using Census population data. Each person is worth up to $1,000 to local and state governments, annually.
For that reason, every state wants to ensure it counts as many of its residents as possible. While many citizens will simply fill out their 10-question Census survey and turn it in, others will need more encouragement from those temporary workers.
Steve Fehl, a training specialist and job analyst with Pikes Peak Workforce Center, says many of the area's unemployed are interested in the Census jobs, despite their temporary nature.
"There are a lot of people that are taking whatever they can get," he says. "There are people, who are white-collar workers, who are willing to wait tables, drive trucks, stock shelves."
Evan Moffatt, who works for the national Census office in Washington, D.C., says the Census offers gigs with decent pay and 56 cents' reimbursement per mile driven. They're good jobs, he says, even if they are temporary and offer no health insurance benefits.
"It's a giant roller-coaster ride," he says.