- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

Virginia’s economy will get a boost early next year when the federal government hires thousands of workers in Alexandria and elsewhere across the state for the 2010 census.

The roughly 3,000 workers will build address lists to begin the census process and also work in offices in Richmond and Roanoke, said Census Bureau spokeswoman B.J. Welborn.

More workers will be needed later in the year to help count a U.S. population that has grown to more than 300 million. Miss Welborn didn’t have an estimate for Virginia, but said the work force of 100,000 initially hired nationwide is expected to grow to 1.4 million.

“We actually are building an army,” she said. “It’s a constitutional mandate that’s too big for the federal government.”

Miss Welborn expects that maintaining the work force will be a challenge even with a sour economy, because the jobs are temporary and offer no benefits. Hourly wages for the full- and part-time positions vary depending on a region’s living costs.

Pay for most of the initial jobs will be $12 an hour in Roanoke, $18 in Richmond and $20 in Alexandria. The workers will scour neighborhoods to document addresses that will receive census questionnaires.

Miss Welborn said the field survey is needed to account for growth since the last census and to reach homes that might have been overlooked.

“When you’re actually on the ground, you see where people live,” she said. “It could be an unexpected place, like above a store.”

The bigger contingent needed in late 2009 will be census takers, who will conduct interviews at homes that have not returned their census forms.

The good news for the 2010 census, Miss Welborn said, is that everyone gets a short questionnaire. However, that doesn’t mean residents will never have to suffer through the lengthy forms that some received in previous counts. That form is now being sent out monthly to a sample of 250,000 homes across the country.

The census, which must be completed by the end of 2010, is used to determine the number of congressional seats for each state, the shape of legislative districts and how $300 billion in federal funds that goes to communities every year is distributed.

The census process is far more complicated now than when the first one was taken in 1790, when federal marshals on horseback counted about 4 million Americans.

“We’re probably the fastest-growing developed country in the world,” Miss Welborn said.

Legal status isn’t among the questions asked, she said, adding that it’s a challenge to count everyone in a country that is “very, very diverse.”

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