Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Linda Marshall-Smith works at a booth set up at a Carson City festival, where she helped promote the 2020 census and recruited census takers. (Photo Courtesy of Linda Marshall-Smith)

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of student produced stories looking at the 2020 census.

This year’s census can be done over the phone, online, or on a paper form. But the fourth and final way dates all the way back to 1790 when the first census was taken: people go out to houses to help people complete the census.

Those people are known traditionally as census takers, although today’s official job title is enumerators. They are sent to households where people haven’t filled out the census form using any of the first three options.

Linda Marshall-Smith, a Los Angeles-based partnership specialist for the 2020 census, was a census taker and a manager of census takers in the 2010 census.  She talked about what it takes to be a census taker and what you can expect working for the census.

“It’s a really good job, especially if it’s one of your first jobs because it’s great for your resume that you’ve worked for the federal government,” she said.

“It’s also a good job for students 18 and older because you can do it after school,” Marshall-Smith said. “You can make your own hours as long as you get the job done.”

The current pay for a census taker in the Bay Area ranges from $21 to $30 an hour. In Contra Costa County, it’s $25 an hour, according to the Census Bureau.

Marshall-Smith said census takers are assigned to go to households in areas near where they live so they don’t have to travel far. Since you are located to work near your home, it is a great way to meet people and engage with members of your community, she said, adding sometimes you can find some really nice people.

“One time I was invited to go inside and it was a big family and I was there for quite some time and they made me lunch,” she said.

You might even get to meet a furry friend along the way, she said. “Another time I went inside and I made good friends with the doggy who gave me kisses the whole time.”

But she added that not everyone can be trusted. “You have to be aware of your surroundings because some dogs may not be as nice. And you have to be aware of things in your surroundings. You need to know how to deal with those types of situations and the training you get helps you to deal with those types of situations.”

Marshall-Smith said there’s plenty of training. “There will be classroom training, self-study training and person-to-person training. Even after your training, you also get accompanied by a supervisor on your first time out.”

Marshall-Smith explained that the first notices to people to fill out the census form are sent out in mid-March. The Census Bureau tracks who fills out the census and then mails reminders to those who haven’t completed the form.

After several reminders to households that didn’t respond, “then we’ll send the census takers out,” she said.

The bulk of hiring for census takers took place earlier this year, but hiring continues through the summer. The last day to fill out the census is July 31, 2020.

The number of census takers that will be hired depends on how many cases are leftover in an area. For example, if Contra Costa County has only five percent of the houses left to complete the census by a certain time, fewer census takers will be needed, Marshall-Smith said. On the other hand, if only 25 percent has completed the census, a lot more census takers will be needed to handle the remaining 75 percent.

Once out in the field, census takers follow a procedure in asking people to fill out the form. They enter the data directly into a little computer, iPad or iPhone, if completed in English or Spanish. But the census takers will provide paper forms if the respondent prefers that, Marshall-Smith said. It takes about 10 minutes for an individual to answer the nine questions.

Before becoming a full-time employee for the Census Bureau, Marshall-Smith had a career in marketing and collecting data. “I thought of the Census Bureau as the granddaddy of all research because we collect data, so working for the census has always been a treat for me.”

To apply to be a census taker you must be 18-years-old and a U.S. citizen. For more information visit www.2020census.gov/jobs.

Clara Stevenson is a senior and a writing editor for the Ygnacio Valley High School yearbook.

This story originally appeared as part of a special section in “CC Spin,” a county-wide student newspaper produced by students at participating Contra Costa County high schools.