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The $4,000 Side Hustle That Builds Our Political Muscle

As a 2010 census taker, I earned good money while helping my community claim resources and representation. You can, too. The 2020 census is hiring now.

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illustration of lady being followed by sidehustle money by islenia mil
Islenia Mil
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Most of my credit cards were maxed out, and the last one standing — the one my husband and I treated like a third income — had just been canceled on us. Sitting down to do the bills each month was pretty much an exercise in futility. And things were going to go from bad to worse unless I did something.

So, I humbled myself and started looking for a side hustle. But not just any side hustle. I needed one that could fit around my demanding day job and long commute. And it needed to pay enough money to make a dent in my debt and be worth the time away from my family.

Fortunately, I found work as a census taker for the 2010 census. For several weeks that summer, I knocked on doors in my town after work and on the weekends — and earned over $2,500.

It was enough money to pay off some of my debt and give me a sense of peace about where I was headed. Our monthly bill sessions were filled with a few less tears and hand-wringing. And my kids still knew who I was when the summer was over.

But that side hustle did more than bring in income; it impacted my community. The census is not just a survey with boxes to check. The census helps determine each state’s representation in Congress and how funds are spent for schools, hospitals and roads, and it provides information to guide many decisions made by government agencies, private businesses and institutions.

What the census means for Black communities
Unfortunately, people of color are historically undercounted in the census. In 2010, over 800,000 Black people were missed, and the Urban Institute estimates that we African Americans could be undercounted by 1.7 million in the 2020 census.

“The threat of an undercount in Black communities is especially great,” Jennifer Edwards, senior director of digital engagement and democracy at Color of Change says. “If there are fewer people reflected in a community, that could lead to a decrease in representation [in Congress].

“Since this data also informs where businesses, like Walmart for example, choose to put up and invest in their new properties, that could lead to a loss of jobs for different communities,” she explains.

A miscount of our communities also means reduced funding for programs such as SNAP, CHIP, Head Start and the National School Lunch Program, “a lot of the resources that . . . many communities rely on day-to-day,” adds Edwards.

2020 census jobs
As we approach 2020, that means it’s time for that once-every-10-years job opportunity.

If you’re looking to earn extra income for your household, consider
becoming a census worker. To prepare for the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau is hiring thousands of recruits to work temporary jobs across the nation.

Positions vary from working in the field canvassing, updating maps, doing follow-up interviews with citizens in your community or working in the office as an administrative clerk or an office operation supervisor, who oversees the field staff.

Census jobs typically last for several weeks between April 1 and December 2020. The Census Bureau is recruiting now due to the process of getting future employees through training and screening processes. “Working for the census is definitely enjoyable, it’s not hard to do and it’s worth it for the pay,” Randy Kramer, U.S. census clerk for the Gainesville office, said.

The pay for census jobs varies by location and position, but in most areas, you could earn enough money to pay down debt, pad an emergency fund or go on a vacation. For example, a census taker in Washington, D.C., working 20 hours a week for eight weeks would earn $4,000.

Here’s what you can expect to earn per hour in a few cities:
Dallas: $22.50
Detroit: $15.00 – $19.00
Las Vegas: $16.50
Los Angeles: $17.00 – $21.00
Washington, D.C.: $25.00

Applying for a 2020 census job
Many older Americans take on census jobs after formally retiring from a full-time career. But if you already have a job, you can still work in a census position. Your current job cannot clash with the hours you work for the census nor create any conflicts of interest. If you’re a veteran who served on active duty in the U.S. military, you may be eligible for veteran's preference.

Get more information about
becoming a census worker or apply here.

Help reduce the risk of an undercount
As I walked around my neighborhood as a census taker in 2010, my face looked like the ones opening the doors. And that impacted how receptive people were to answering questions and turning over their personal information.

If you’re looking for a side hustle, why not choose one that does double duty? Working for the census allows you to help your community and earn money at the same time. “There’s so much at stake in Black communities,” Edwards reminds us. “It is our role and civic duty to help reduce the risk of an undercount.”