Overeducated And Unemployed? Try The Census

If the count is more accurate and efficient than usual this year, it may be due to the economy. Thanks to the recession, the Census Bureau has more highly qualified people helping to carry out the count than ever before. Now, work is getting done faster than anticipated - and under budget.

April 1 is the day the U.S. Census Bureau wants you to turn in your census form. They're trying to put together an as-accurate-as-possible count of how many people there are in America on that day.

If the count is more accurate and efficient than usual this year, it may be due to the economy. Because of the recession, the Census Bureau has more highly qualified people helping to carry out the count than ever before.

Ph.D. Turns Census Clerk

Herman Kopecek is a would-be college professor who has taught history, philosophy and business ethics. But with teaching jobs hard to find, Kopecek and his Ph.D. are now working for the census. His job title?

Clerk.

And, Kopecek says, he's perfectly OK with that.

"Some people would say I'm overqualified, but I do not look at it as any kind of step down or anything for me," he says. "I'm very happy to have this job. I get fulfillment out of it. I know I can do it well. And to tell you the truth, it's less stressful than teaching."

Kopecek is at the Seattle Regional Census Center, where his tasks include helping to hire other census workers. He says he's found quite a few professionals in the same boat: well trained, but unable to find work in their chosen fields.

"I've met people at my office who've had various backgrounds: economics, perhaps in creative fields such as the theater, other people with a Ph.D.," Kopecek says. "It is absolutely due to the state of the economy and more reduced opportunities."

The Best Option

With the unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, professionals of all stripes have taken a look at job prospects, and decided that a temporary gig with the census looks pretty darn good.

"I belong to a particular job group, and many of them are in the same position. They are professionals, they have been in the workforce for a number of years, and yet they are having a hard time landing that perfect job. So until then, I think this bridges the gap for many people," says Loisa Maritza White, who works at the Washington, D.C., census office.

White, 55, had been an office manager and is taking graduate courses. Her position with the census — and the money it pays — have come in handy.

"The census job came at a perfect time," White says. "It allows me to have those additional funds that I need in order to get through school."

The census will hire more than 1 million temporary workers for a range of jobs paying up to $25 an hour.

Susan Williams is office operations assistant at the same Washington census office. She took a census job after being laid off from her law firm.

"It's tough out there," Williams says. "There are definitely a lot of other attorneys out there who are looking for work."

Good For The Census

"What we're finding now is the quantity and quality of the applicant pool is just incredible," says Robert Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

A Ph.D. himself, Groves says the census has been the indirect beneficiary of what he labels a terrible recession.

"We have people with a depth of experience at running organizations running some of our local census offices," says Groves. "We have people with much better IT skills than in general, and when it comes down to doing operations, they need the money, so they work the hours that we need them to work."

The upshot, says Groves, is that work is getting done faster than anticipated — and under budget. His only wish is that the census could do even more for the unemployment rate. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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