Census temp workers for Md. count lacking

March 09, 2010|By Brent Jones | brent.jones@baltsun.com

As the Census Bureau struggles to find local workers for thousands of temporary positions, set back by twin snowstorms and a lower-than-expected passing rate for applicants, a newly released study shows that Maryland has received the lowest percentage of federal money based on Census statistics.

The government is looking to hire 10,000 temporary workers in the state to knock on doors of residents who do not mail back census forms. But officials say staffing Baltimore's two offices has been difficult, and that the city has fallen behind in hiring workers, which could ultimately affect the count.

"We're in need," said Sylvia T. Ballinger, an officer with the Philadelphia Regional Census Center, which serves Maryland. Ballinger added that census officials project to be at about 70 percent of their goal by the end of the month. "The snow was a hindrance."

The 2000 census put Baltimore's official population at 651,154, a number undercounted by about 1 percent (5,800 residents). Six times since then, the city has challenged the census results, to no avail.

Underscoring the need for an accurate count, a report released by the Brookings Institution shows Maryland received the smallest percentage of federal grant money based on population than any other state.

Maryland received about $6 billion in 2008, with about 58 percent of that money distributed based on Census Bureau numbers, 26 percentage points lower than the national average, according to the report. The rest of the state's money was distributed on a discretionary basis by the federal government.

Andrew Reamer, the author of the report, said Maryland rates are low because it is one of the country's richest states and does not receive significant federal money for programs to help the poor, a population that is often measured through the census.

"That's probably the key more than anything," Reamer said.

Reamer said Maryland could also be affected by the 2000 census undercount, which would decrease overall funding. Federal money is distributed, in part, based on population surveyed in the once-a-decade census. Census figures are also used to determine the number of seats each state gets in Congress. Federal funding for Maryland residents is estimated at about $1,000 per person, per year.

"If Maryland undercounts, it won't get its fair share. If Maryland is missing more people percentage-wise than other states, it's going to lose money," Reamer said.

Ballinger said applicants for the city census jobs need to get 70 percent of the questions correct on a test to be eligible, and that potential workers can take the test several times.

Bureau officials say they will mail most forms to the state's approximately 5.7 million residents next week. Field operations are expected to begin about a month later. Officials are looking to hire for stints ranging from six weeks to three months, starting at $17.50 an hour.

The government ran a $2.5 million ad during the Super Bowl encouraging people to become involved in the census.

An article in Tuesday's editions incorrectly stated that residents interested in applying for jobs with the Census Bureau can do so online. The Census Bureau is asking applicants to call 866-861-2010 instead. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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