How to Become a Census Taker

Make extra money and meet new people as a census taker

Interacial Couple Filling out Census
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 Robert Daemmrich Photography/Getty Images

The next census is scheduled for 2020 and will require thousands of census takers. Become one of them to help your community and enjoy a temporary boost to your income.

Importance of the U.S. Census

Every 10 years, the government conducts a census, or survey, of the U.S. population to get a count of how many people live in each state. The results of the census help provide a better understanding of American demographics. More importantly, they determine each state's congressional representation and how much federal money each community will receive.

The federal agency that oversees the census, known as the U.S. Census Bureau, undertakes a nationwide recruitment effort to hire census takers from around the country for positions based in either the U.S. or Puerto Rico. Census takers are often drawn to the position for the opportunity to perform their civic duty, improve the financial futures of their communities, and make extra money.

Responsibilities of Census Takers

When most people think of a census taker, they imagine a person who knocks on doors to gather information. While that is one mission of the job, census takers are enlisted to perform a variety of tasks related to the U.S. Census.

They verify addresses. One of the most important census-taker jobs is that of the canvasser: a person who goes door to door to verify the addresses of residents in their community before the census is mailed. Canvassers may also return to these addresses later to interview residents who did not respond to the census mailing.

They collect data. Census takers must gather data from participants by asking a wide range of questions about topics some people may find invasive, such as an individual's ethnic background, marital status, income, and place of birth. Each of these questions helps the federal government develop policies and budgets for community needs. Individual answers to these questions are kept confidential.

They deliver census materials. Census takers often go to homes to drop off paper questionnaires or instructions on how to participate in the census online or by phone.

They do quality assurance. A census taker may make follow-up calls to census participants to ensure accuracy in their responses.

Census-Taker Eligibility Requirements

The U.S. Census Bureau encourages individuals of all backgrounds to apply to become a census taker, including college students, retirees, part-time workers, and the unemployed or underemployed.

However, to get a census-taker job, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a Social Security number that's valid
  • Pass a background check
  • Have a working email address
  • Complete four days of training
  • Complete an application and pass an assessment (questions are available in Spanish, but you may need to take an English proficiency test)
  • Be registered with the Selective Service program or have an exemption, if you are male and were born after December 31, 1959
  • Be able to work on a flexible schedule

In addition, census takers should usually:

  • Have a driver's license
  • Have access to a car or reliable public transportation
  • Have access to a computer with internet (for census training)

Hours for Census Takers

Census takers work on a flexible schedule. They're usually employed in the summer for six weeks, but the job can last anywhere from a few weeks to many months. During this time, they must be willing and able to work evenings, weekends, and in poor weather conditions if needed.

Census-Taker Pay

Census takers are paid on a weekly basis at an hourly rate that varies by location, but it is typically more than the minimum wage. You will be paid for hours you work as well as training.

To determine how much census takers make in your area, visit the U.S. Census Bureau's job opportunities page by state. Then, select your state from the drop-down list and click on an available job opportunity to view the hourly rate for the position.

Census-Taker Hiring Process

When you're ready to apply, follow these steps to get hired.

Apply online. You will need to create an account on the U.S. Census Bureau's recruitment website and then complete an online application. You will be asked to supply personal information, including your date of birth, Social Security number, home address, email address, and phone number. You will also take an assessment test containing questions about your work experience and academic degree so that the U.S. Census Bureau can determine your suitability for a census-taking job. The online application should take around 30 minutes. You can track the status of your application by logging in to your online account.

Participate in a phone interview. The Census Bureau will eventually follow up with you and either request more information or schedule a phone interview. If you are successful, you will receive a verbal offer and a formal offer letter by mail.

Complete a background check. You must take and pass a fingerprint background check. You may need to submit additional security documentation as part of the background check.

Undergo training. New recruits will receive paid training in census-taking techniques, which can vary depending on the role you were hired to fill. The specific training requirements will be provided to you by mail or email.

Get sworn in. You will take an oath of office and be sworn in on your first day of work as a census taker.

If you're already employed, there should be no conflicts of interest between your existing job and your employment with the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, you may not participate in partisan political activities while on the job.

Call the U.S. Census Bureau job line at 1-855-JOB-2020 (1-855-562-2020) if you have questions during the application process.

The Bottom Line

The U.S. Census Bureau recruits individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levels to carry out the important work of counting the population every 10 years. The job allows civic-minded individuals to help their communities and supplement their income.

Recruitment efforts for the 2020 Census kicked off in October 2019. Interested individuals should apply early, as it can take several weeks from the time you get the job offer to the time you begin work as a census taker.