The first leg of the U.S. Census Bureau test run in San Joaquin County wrapped up at about 3 a.m. Wednesday with few hiccups.
Four hundred temporary employees toted cell-phone-sized handheld computers through neighborhoods all around the county to correct and update addresses. The updated information will ensure that every county household is mailed a mock questionnaire in March of next year.
San Joaquin County is one of two areas in the country to undergo a “dress rehearsal” to prepare for the 2010 census. The county’s diverse population, rapid growth rate and its variety of urban and rural communities create the perfect stage for the census’ dry run. The other location being tested is Fayetteville, N.C.
“The information they can get by running a full office gives them a real guide to what needs to occur in 2010,” said Barbara Ferry, county census office manager. “This time — with the computers — it was particularly important.”
Census crew leader Kathleen Garcia of Stockton coached a team of field workers who added hundreds of new addresses in sprawling east Stockton neighborhoods. She said the computers were a definite challenge.
“We could go out today in an area, and by the time we go back, 200 houses are in that same area,” she said. “You just have to go out with a prayer every day.”
The handheld computers by Harris Computer Systems became sluggish as more addresses bogged down the system. Kelly said the company plans to add more memory before the 2010 census.
Census workers in 2000 jotted down addresses and questionnaires with a pen and paper. The computers are more accurate and are supposed to save money.
Local census office manager Barbara Ferry discusses the GPS-equipped handheld computers, shown below, that were used in a dry run by census workers recording addresses in San Joaquin County. The county is looking to hire 1,500 employees from a pool of 10,000 applicants by February to help with the rest of the test run for the 2010 census. Photos by Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
“It was so labor intensive,” Ferry said of the 2000 method. “The cost saving we’re going to see is going to be darn dramatic.”
Dress rehearsal administrators want to hire 1,500 employees from a pool of 10,000 new applicants by February, a feat assistant manager of recruiting Tammy Kelly believes the bureau can attain. The county census office narrowed down 5,000 applicants to 500 temporary hires during the past two months.
“It has to be possible,” she said. “We lose about 40 percent due to ineligibility. You have to take that number right off the top.”
Temporary workers in Tracy and Mountain House are particularly hard to come by. Twenty-six Tracy residents and one Mountain House resident updated addresses in local neighborhoods over the past two months, but about 50 were needed. Residents from Lathrop, Manteca and Stockton filled in.
New hires in August will check addresses and count residents in prisons, nursing homes and college dormitories. Employees in the spring will visit households that don’t fill out the mock census that should land in mailboxes throughout the county by March 19.
Most positions start at $12 an hour and last between five and 10 weeks. Applicants must live in San Joaquin County. They will take a basic math and reading test and undergo a background check. Practice tests are at the Tracy Branch Library, 20 E. Eaton Ave.
For information: 866-376-2008.
To contact reporter Danielle MacMurchy, call 830-4221 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.