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Hundreds of men and women began lining up on the sidewalks outside Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast Washington two hours before the doors opened one day last week. Most have criminal records involving drugs, stolen cars, burglary and the like. But they'd been told that the census would consider hiring them anyway, if not as census takers then as clerks.
Most of those bundled against the chill of a January morning were in their 40s and 50s. They said they just want to find work and get on with their lives. Some have been out of prison and job-hunting for years, some for months. All are familiar with the change in an interviewer's eyes when they acknowledge that they have a record, and they leave knowing a follow-up call will never come.
ad_icon Job fairs to find census workers have attracted hundreds of ex-convicts in recent weeks, so many that the organizer wants to find a bigger site, such as the D.C. Armory.
Job fairs to find census workers have attracted hundreds of ex-convicts in recent weeks, so many that the organizer wants to find a bigger site, such as the D.C. Armory. Few with felony convictions are likely to get hired for the temporary jobs, which pay $20 an hour in the District. The Census Bureau has a list of crimes that would automatically disqualify a candidate. Job candidates convicted of less-severe transgressions, mostly misdemeanors, might get a second look from the bureau. Fernando Armstrong, director of the regional census office that includes the District and Maryland, said the agency might not be hiring by the time background checks on applicants with criminal histories are completed.
Brown said the 730 people who have taken the census test could be particularly effective working in hard-to-count neighborhoods where residents tend to be poor, minorities or immigrants. The Census Bureau tries to hire census takers in neighborhoods where they live, thinking people will be more likely to talk to someone they know.
Although the Census Bureau has in the past hired people with criminal histories, critics say that could jeopardize the accuracy of the census. People who didn't mail in their forms might refuse to invite census takers into their homes and answer their questions. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has introduced a bill that would ban felons from being census takers.