On February 19, 2020

Help wanted: state is 1,000 Census workers short

Michael Harrington, acting commissioner of the Department of Labor, center, speaks during Gov. Phil Scott’s press conference at his ceremonial office at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Thursday, February 13, 2020. Harrington and State Librarian Jason Broughton, right, joined the governor in calling for Vermonters to participate in the 2020 census. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

By Colin Meyn and Grace Elletson/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott was once again talking about Vermont’s workforce woes during his weekly press conference, but the circumstances were less predictable than usual.

The federal government is having a tough time finding people to conduct the census in Vermont. Scott said he got a call from federal officials informing him that they are about 1,000 workers short with just a few weeks until the April 1 start date.

“They’re struggling to find people as we are with everything else in our state,” Scott said. “We have more jobs than we have people available and this is going to be a struggle for us as well.”

The governor and other officials involved in the census took turns talking about the importance of the census and the perks of being part of the team that conducts it.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said various state and nonprofit offices were being deployed to get out the word online and on the ground to fill out the census ranks.

“But I think that’s where, you know, we would ask each of you, to help us in getting the message out that there are positions available,” he said.

So here we are:  The part-time gigs run from April 1 to July 30 and pay $20-$22 an hour.

“So if there are people, whether they need extra cash, or they are looking for work, there are positions available,” Harrington added.

Recruiting shortages were just one of the issues the federal Government Accountability Office pointed out in a report on the census released this week.

The report pointed to potential security issues around relying on online forms for the first time — and last-minute changes to digital systems. The GAO also highlighted  “weaknesses” around the federal government’s ability to recover data lost to cyber attacks.

Asked about these concerns, State Librarian Jason Broughton, who chairs Vermont’s census task force, said state officials had been assured that data would be secure.

“So the census has, I would say, assured us in a variety of different ways that it is a strong system, and they are very supportive of how it will actually interplay the rest of the year,” Broughton said.
There are plenty of reasons why the Scott administration wants the census to go well — the more people that get counted, the more federal assistance Vermont receives.

But apart from cheerleading, there’s not a whole lot the governor can do about some of the major challenges facing the census bureau.

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