Census address work succeeded despite trouble hiring staff

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Even though the U.S. Census Bureau had trouble finding workers for its massive address-verification work late last summer, it managed to complete the job under budget because of better-than-expected productivity of its staffers, according to a new report.

The 32,000 workers sent out across the U.S. to double-check addresses ahead of the start of the 2020 census verified almost 20 addresses an hour compared with the expected goal of almost 16 addresses an hour, according to the report released this month from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The workers verified 50 million addresses from last August to October, and the work cost $118.6 million compared with the $185 million budgeted for the job. Despite the success, the Census Bureau had trouble finding workers. In some parts of the country, workers from other states were brought in, incurring unplanned costs for travel and hotel stays, the GAO said.

The Census Bureau credited the increased efficiency to new technology and automation.

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The address-verification work required the largest deployment of workers ahead of the launch of the 2020 count.

It also offered a preview of what may happen this summer when the bureau needs to deploy hundreds of thousands of workers for the once-a-decade count of very U.S. resident, the GAO said.

The 2020 census started in remote Alaska villages in January, but most U.S. residents didn’t get to start answering the once-a-decade questionnaire until mid-March.

The Census Bureau is planning to hire 320,000 to 500,000 census takers to go out this summer to knock on the doors of homes whose residents haven’t responded yet.

The spread of the coronavirus, though, is complicating hiring efforts, as the bureau has suspended all field operations until the start of April. The spread of the virus is responsible for the bureau pushing back by two weeks the deadline for wrapping up the 2020 count to mid-August, and it’s also delaying counts for the homeless, college students and nursing home residents. Bureau officials said last week they may need to hire more workers because of the delays caused by virus’ spread.

The address-verification is important for letting the bureau know where to send notices telling people they can start answering the questionnaire and where census takers need to do followup questioning if they don’t get responses.

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