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Workers, volunteers needed for upcoming census

New London — There are countless ways to make sure your community gets counted correctly in this year's census. In addition to filling out your own census response and encouraging friends and family to do their civic duty, the census is looking for both volunteers and paid employees.

The U.S. Census Bureau has hundreds of thousands of jobs available nationwide — 28,000 in Connecticut alone — with many jobs available in southeastern Connecticut, according to Keith Goralski, a spokesman for the New York region of the bureau, which includes New London County.

Open positions are both full time and part time, in the field and in the office, and pay up to $23.50 per hour, more than double the state minimum wage.

Nick and Karen Fischer, honorary co-chairs of New London's Complete Count Committee, said committees across the region are eager to recruit employees and volunteers who are ready to knock on doors, organize events and visit local businesses to get the word out about this year's historic census, the first to be offered online.

The census, which is done every 10 years, plays a large role in determining federal and state funding that impacts everything from Medicaid and school lunch programs to highway repairs and public housing.

"It's our civic duty to participate, it's part of our responsibility as a resident," said Karen Fischer.

Responding to the census, said the Fischers, is just as important as voting.

The census affects the distribution of more than $675 billion in federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities, and determines the number of U.S. and state representatives each state gets, Goralski said.

In 2010, Connecticut received $10.7 billion in federal funding for 55 programs like SNAP, federal Pell grants, Head Start and WIC, according to a census study done by George Washington University. The amount allocated to the state for these programs was determined by the census count, and according to Karen Fischer, New London County was severely undercounted.

The 2010 census counted 274,500 residents in New London County. The bureau estimated in 2018 that there were 266,784 residents. But the Fischers think that number is much higher and that many populations that are considered hard-to-count or under-reported were left out.

Liz Porter, chair of the Complete Count Committee in Groton, said that the problem extends throughout the region.

"In southeastern Connecticut, we have not been as responsive as we need to be," said Porter. But she hopes that will change this year with the help of volunteers and census workers.

"This is not the time to sit back and say, 'Oh let somebody else do it,'" said Porter. "This is the time we need to step up and get involved if we want our share of the pot of services from the government."

This year, Complete Count Committees across southeastern Connecticut, and the nation, are looking for help to make sure the hard-to-count populations are reached.

"Our goal is to make sure every possible person gets counted," said Karen Fischer.

In New London County, volunteers and workers will be engaging in one-on-one conversations and handing out informational materials, while census takers and volunteers will be going door-to-door, either letting folks know about the census or helping them submit their response right there.

Census takers, who will knock on doors to fill out official census responses with residents who haven't yet responded, will be paid the $23.50 an hour rate and can work flexible schedules during the day, in the evenings and at night. The majority of job openings are for census takers, according to the bureau, but there are a variety of options.

"There are people that go out and knock on doors, but that's not all you can do," said Porter. "There's quite a bit of opportunity right now."

In addition to census takers, the bureau is hiring office clerks, recruiting assistants, field supervisors and office supervisors.

Local complete count committees are also relying heavily on volunteers to coordinate events and get the word out.

The committee plans to visit local hangouts like barber shops and cafes — speaking with people face-to-face is one way to raise awareness about the census, and it is helpful to residents who may have trouble reading the information about the census they receive by mail, said Nick Fischer.

"New London is socioeconomically and racially diverse, and there's also a lot of literacy diversity," said Fischer. By having a verbal conversation rather than just handing out pamphlets, you can help educate residents and connect them with resources, he said.

A few communities have been identified as the hardest to count in New London, according to Karen Fischer: children under the age of 5, families with mixed immigration status, and young adults who move frequently.

To help reach those populations, Fischer said many committees are turning to local schools and churches but are relying heavily on volunteers with personal connections.

For many residents, the census spurs anxiety that the government will know their information, which can be particularly concerning for families with mixed immigration statuses.

By law, the bureau cannot release any information that would identify individuals, said Goralski. Making that fact known is one of the biggest obstacles facing local census takers.

"Oftentimes people who are hardest to reach are people who don't want the government knowing their business or don't trust the people knocking on their door," said Nick Fischer, former superintendent of New London Public Schools. "There are people in our community who know people's stories and have their trust, and that's important."

"We're looking for people who grew up in New London and know people," said Karen Fischer. "We want people to volunteer who know people's names."

To reach more transient residents, especially young adults or teens, and families with children, Karen Fischer said they're hoping to recruit high school students who know their classmates and can help account for younger siblings or families who move often.

Overall, committees are looking for friendly faces that people can trust when they open their door.

"The best thing we can do is to get people to come to the door that people can recognize," said Porter.

In New London alone, more than 270 organizations, businesses and individuals have signed up to volunteer so far, but more volunteers are always welcome. Committees are also seeking donations to help fund outreach events and informative efforts, like having electronic signage about the census on the highway.

"We're going to need a lot of help," said Karen Fischer.

Committees are especially in need of volunteers who are bilingual and speak Spanish and Creole, and people with computer skills. The bureau encourages people who are bilingual to apply for census jobs.

Most roles include paid training. Census employees will be paid weekly, and census takers will also receive reimbursement for work-related mileage and expenses.

To complete the census this year, submit your response by mail, online, over the phone or through a census taker.

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