In Camden, a census job fair geared toward getting an accurate count

The nation’s once every decade nose count is just four months away, and officials in Camden and other cities — where the job poses special challenges — are doing whatever they can to help the Census Bureau ensure that everyone is counted.

“Everything has to do with a trust issue,” Rick Camacho, executive director of Puerto Rican Unity for Progress.

Camacho’s organization is running a job fair in Camden, taking applications for workers to join the 2020 Census Bureau. He said many in the South Jersey city aren’t likely to open the door or share any kind of personal information with a stranger.

“But if it’s my neighbor, my friend, and they tell me the importance of this, then I’m most likely to go ahead and fill out the form and say ‘Wow, I need to be counted,’” Camacho said.

Getting an accurate count is important, since it sets the foundation for 10 years of Congressional apportionment as well as how government aid is divvied up. The last census, conducted in 2010, had a major impact on New Jersey.

“Last time we had the census count, we lost a Congressional seat,” said Camden County Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, who’s also serving as the Camden City coordinator for Census 2020.

“The other thing is how $650 billion gets spent every year, and how much each state gets allocated,” she said. “It’s really important. It’s infrastructure, roads. It’s schools, your hospitals. It’s everything that gets impacted.”

But in communities with undocumented residents, many have long been reluctant to take part. And the 2020 Census may be especially difficult after the Trump administration moved to include a citizenship question. In the end, the question is not on census forms, but many in the community don’t know that, according to Rodriguez.

Getting the word out is key, she said.

“We have to work harder than ever to make sure that people who are undocumented know that they count too,” Rodriguez said. “The census is purely about counting people and where they live. Because we need to make sure that each community has the right resources. And if you’re undocumented and you live in Camden City, you count in Camden City.”

That’s why the Census Bureau is hiring from within urban neighborhoods. Job fairs like the one in Camden are designed to help community members know the jobs are available, at a $17.50 hourly pay rate that’s well above minimum wage, and with flexible hours.

“I would be able to do this from my house, or whatever, from my place of residence,” said Christopher Nero, an applicant. “And if I still couldn’t do it, then I would use my car. And be paid mileage.”

The challenge of getting people to be counted doesn’t faze Shawn Cicalese. “I’m pretty good at outreach. I do that every day,” he said.

The Census now has digital access, both for applicants looking for work, and for residents to be counted.

“This time we’re giving people the opportunity to self-report through computer, phone or paper,” Rodriguez said.

Census workers will also go door to door in the quest to count those who fail to respond.