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How did the 2020 census affect employment?

By Katelynn Harris

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a full count of the entire population of the United States, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. To achieve this mission, the Census Bureau hires hundreds of thousands of temporary workers. These workers are reflected in the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey employment estimates.1

This Beyond the Numbers article discusses the spikes in federal employment caused by the hiring of temporary census workers in 2020 compared with 2010, and the challenges the Census Bureau faced in collecting the data. This article is an update to one originally published in 2020.

Data collection process

The 2020 census involves multiple phases in order to collect responses. The first major field operation, address canvassing, where workers verify addresses to ensure a complete and accurate count, began in August 2019 and lasted through October 2019. In March 2020, census forms with a deadline to reply by April 1, 2020 were sent to all households. Next, census workers performed nonresponse follow-up by visiting about 56 million addresses to collect responses.2 Finally, workers completed a quality assurance phase to ensure a complete 2020 census count.

Impact of hiring census workers

Hiring for the 2020 census began on May 2018, almost 2 years prior to “Census Day,” or April 1, 2020. In August 2020—the month of peak employment activity—more than 230,000 temporary workers were hired. (See chart 1.)

View Chart Data

Chart 1. Other-the-month employment change in decennial census temporary and intermittent workers, not seasonally adjusted, November 2018–September 2021, in thousands
Date Employment change (in thousands)

Nov 2018

0

Dec 2018

0

Jan 2019

0

Feb 2019

1

Mar 2019

0

Apr 2019

0

May 2019

1

Jun 2019

0

Jul 2019

0

Aug 2019

24

Sep 2019

1

Oct 2019

-20

Nov 2019

-4

Dec 2019

3

Jan 2020

5

Feb 2020

7

Mar 2020

17

Apr 2020

4

May 2020

-15

Jun 2020

-4

Jul 2020

27

Aug 2020

238

Sep 2020

-41

Oct 2020

-147

Nov 2020

-93

Dec 2020

-3

Jan 2021

-3

Feb 2021

-1

Mar 2021

0

Apr 2021

0

May 2021

0

Jun 2021

5

Jul 2021

0

Aug 2021

-2

Sep 2021

-2

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Limited hiring for the 2020 census began in November 2018, and there was little to no effect on payroll employment estimates for several months. (See chart 1.) The first noticeable surge in CES estimates took place in August 2019, when 24,000 census temporary workers were hired for address canvasing. In September 2019, address canvasing employment level peaked at 28,000 workers, much less than the 40,000 the Census Bureau had expected to hire.3 Hiring for nonresponse follow-up peaked in August 2020, at 288,000 workers, about half as many employees as the Census Bureau expected to hire.4 Over the next 3 months, almost all of these workers were let go, totaling a loss of 281,000 workers. Fewer workers were needed to complete the quality assurance phase, and the Census Bureau slowly reduced employment through the end of 2020 and into early 2021. By March 2021, the count of temporary census workers had fallen to zero. Because of delays in processing the data, the Census Bureau hired 5,000 workers in June 2021 to finish processing the apportionment counts and redistricting data.

Differences between the 2010 and 2020 census

Hiring for the 2020 census was much weaker and occurred later than prior censuses. (See chart 2.) The differences between the lines in chart 2 represent the effect of decennial census hiring.

Census field offices

For the 2010 census, the Census Bureau opened 494 total field offices compared with the 2020 census, where it only opened 248 total field offices throughout the country. This decrease was due to increased use of technology, streamlined staffing, and the ability to work and manage remotely resulted in the reduction of field offices for the 2020 census.5

Address canvassing

Address canvassing operations for the 2010 census occurred from April through July 2009. Hiring of federal employees peaked at a level of 126,000 in April 2009. For the 2020 Census, employment for 2020 address canvassing peaked in September 2019, at 28,000 workers. This was due to an advancement in technology used to complete address canvassing that allowed the Census Bureau to hire fewer employees than in 2009. In-office canvassing using satellite imagery was used to verify 65 percent of addresses. The remaining 35 percent—about 50 million–addresses were verified through in-field address canvassing.

View Chart Data

Chart 2. Federal employment, and federal employment, except decennial census temporary and intermittent workers, 1990–2021, seasonally adjusted, in thousands
Date Federal Federal, except decennial census temporary and intermittent workers

Jan 1990

3103 3099

Feb 1990

3109 3094

Mar 1990

3194 3126

Apr 1990

3259 3106

May 1990

3435 3100

Jun 1990

3332 3081

Jul 1990

3274 3095

Aug 1990

3174 3093

Sep 1990

3136 3092

Oct 1990

3114 3087

Nov 1990

3108 3089

Dec 1990

3110 3097

Jan 1991

3098 3098

Feb 1991

3096 3096

Mar 1991

3095 3095

Apr 1991

3086 3086

May 1991

3096 3096

Jun 1991

3103 3103

Jul 1991

3133 3133

Aug 1991

3121 3121

Sep 1991

3121 3121

Oct 1991

3131 3131

Nov 1991

3128 3128

Dec 1991

3121 3121

Jan 1992

3137 3137

Feb 1992

3121 3121

Mar 1992

3121 3121

Apr 1992

3117 3117

May 1992

3119 3119

Jun 1992

3117 3117

Jul 1992

3117 3117

Aug 1992

3109 3109

Sep 1992

3107 3107

Oct 1992

3090 3090

Nov 1992

3083 3083

Dec 1992

3101 3101

Jan 1993

3092 3092

Feb 1993

3079 3079

Mar 1993

3071 3071

Apr 1993

3069 3069

May 1993

3065 3065

Jun 1993

3067 3067

Jul 1993

3071 3071

Aug 1993

3064 3064

Sep 1993

3057 3057

Oct 1993

3039 3039

Nov 1993

3036 3036

Dec 1993

3037 3037

Jan 1994

3053 3053

Feb 1994

3046 3046

Mar 1994

3043 3043

Apr 1994

3034 3034

May 1994

3027 3027

Jun 1994

3017 3017

Jul 1994

3009 3009

Aug 1994

3002 3002

Sep 1994

3002 3002

Oct 1994

2997 2997

Nov 1994

2984 2984

Dec 1994

2983 2983

Jan 1995

2973 2973

Feb 1995

2970 2970

Mar 1995

2965 2965

Apr 1995

2964 2964

May 1995

2959 2959

Jun 1995

2959 2959

Jul 1995

2949 2949

Aug 1995

2943 2943

Sep 1995

2929 2929

Oct 1995

2934 2934

Nov 1995

2913 2913

Dec 1995

2903 2903

Jan 1996

2900 2900

Feb 1996

2905 2905

Mar 1996

2900 2900

Apr 1996

2894 2894

May 1996

2887 2887

Jun 1996

2884 2884

Jul 1996

2877 2877

Aug 1996

2873 2873

Sep 1996

2866 2866

Oct 1996

2845 2845

Nov 1996

2845 2845

Dec 1996

2839 2839

Jan 1997

2845 2845

Feb 1997

2838 2838

Mar 1997

2836 2836

Apr 1997

2816 2816

May 1997

2813 2813

Jun 1997

2815 2815

Jul 1997

2778 2778

Aug 1997

2777 2777

Sep 1997

2772 2772

Oct 1997

2791 2791

Nov 1997

2796 2796

Dec 1997

2789 2789

Jan 1998

2772 2772

Feb 1998

2768 2768

Mar 1998

2762 2762

Apr 1998

2752 2751

May 1998

2762 2759

Jun 1998

2762 2759

Jul 1998

2771 2769

Aug 1998

2776 2762

Sep 1998

2772 2760

Oct 1998

2778 2749

Nov 1998

2790 2749

Dec 1998

2785 2765

Jan 1999

2765 2742

Feb 1999

2773 2733

Mar 1999

2767 2729

Apr 1999

2793 2771

May 1999

2764 2756

Jun 1999

2766 2757

Jul 1999

2765 2754

Aug 1999

2773 2756

Sep 1999

2766 2748

Oct 1999

2766 2755

Nov 1999

2767 2754

Dec 1999

2771 2756

Jan 2000

2768 2736

Feb 2000

2796 2737

Mar 2000

2884 2730

Apr 2000

2911 2730

May 2000

3244 2714

Jun 2000

3004 2699

Jul 2000

2942 2710

Aug 2000

2868 2722

Sep 2000

2745 2721

Oct 2000

2736 2725

Nov 2000

2737 2731

Dec 2000

2745 2744

Jan 2001

2753 2751

Feb 2001

2752 2750

Mar 2001

2755 2754

Apr 2001

2755 2755

May 2001

2758 2758

Jun 2001

2780 2780

Jul 2001

2783 2783

Aug 2001

2780 2780

Sep 2001

2770 2770

Oct 2001

2763 2763

Nov 2001

2759 2759

Dec 2001

2751 2751

Jan 2002

2756 2756

Feb 2002

2757 2757

Mar 2002

2755 2755

Apr 2002

2755 2755

May 2002

2768 2768

Jun 2002

2768 2768

Jul 2002

2757 2757

Aug 2002

2762 2762

Sep 2002

2768 2768

Oct 2002

2780 2780

Nov 2002

2781 2781

Dec 2002

2780 2780

Jan 2003

2789 2789

Feb 2003

2789 2789

Mar 2003

2791 2791

Apr 2003

2769 2769

May 2003

2753 2753

Jun 2003

2763 2763

Jul 2003

2760 2760

Aug 2003

2751 2751

Sep 2003

2749 2749

Oct 2003

2742 2742

Nov 2003

2728 2728

Dec 2003

2740 2740

Jan 2004

2732 2732

Feb 2004

2731 2731

Mar 2004

2731 2731

Apr 2004

2753 2753

May 2004

2730 2730

Jun 2004

2730 2730

Jul 2004

2729 2729

Aug 2004

2729 2729

Sep 2004

2729 2729

Oct 2004

2724 2724

Nov 2004

2727 2727

Dec 2004

2728 2728

Jan 2005

2727 2727

Feb 2005

2728 2728

Mar 2005

2733 2733

Apr 2005

2725 2725

May 2005

2734 2734

Jun 2005

2733 2733

Jul 2005

2728 2728

Aug 2005

2731 2731

Sep 2005

2732 2732

Oct 2005

2735 2735

Nov 2005

2739 2739

Dec 2005

2733 2733

Jan 2006

2727 2727

Feb 2006

2733 2733

Mar 2006

2733 2733

Apr 2006

2733 2733

May 2006

2734 2734

Jun 2006

2736 2736

Jul 2006

2740 2740

Aug 2006

2733 2733

Sep 2006

2732 2732

Oct 2006

2731 2731

Nov 2006

2729 2729

Dec 2006

2730 2730

Jan 2007

2731 2731

Feb 2007

2732 2732

Mar 2007

2731 2731

Apr 2007

2732 2732

May 2007

2733 2733

Jun 2007

2729 2729

Jul 2007

2727 2727

Aug 2007

2738 2738

Sep 2007

2737 2737

Oct 2007

2734 2734

Nov 2007

2744 2744

Dec 2007

2756 2756

Jan 2008

2738 2738

Feb 2008

2747 2747

Mar 2008

2752 2752

Apr 2008

2755 2755

May 2008

2757 2757

Jun 2008

2759 2759

Jul 2008

2767 2767

Aug 2008

2766 2766

Sep 2008

2768 2768

Oct 2008

2772 2772

Nov 2008

2778 2777

Dec 2008

2775 2772

Jan 2009

2786 2781

Feb 2009

2795 2789

Mar 2009

2797 2785

Apr 2009

2922 2796

May 2009

2860 2791

Jun 2009

2814 2805

Jul 2009

2826 2822

Aug 2009

2825 2820

Sep 2009

2826 2818

Oct 2009

2843 2826

Nov 2009

2842 2829

Dec 2009

2831 2816

Jan 2010

2860 2836

Feb 2010

2872 2833

Mar 2010

2923 2836

Apr 2010

2984 2830

May 2010

3416 2852

Jun 2010

3193 2854

Jul 2010

3051 2855

Aug 2010

2945 2863

Sep 2010

2869 2863

Oct 2010

2866 2865

Nov 2010

2866 2866

Dec 2010

2870 2870

Jan 2011

2874 2873

Feb 2011

2876 2873

Mar 2011

2877 2874

Apr 2011

2870 2870

May 2011

2871 2871

Jun 2011

2860 2860

Jul 2011

2862 2862

Aug 2011

2850 2850

Sep 2011

2846 2846

Oct 2011

2850 2850

Nov 2011

2842 2842

Dec 2011

2836 2836

Jan 2012

2833 2833

Feb 2012

2828 2828

Mar 2012

2828 2828

Apr 2012

2826 2826

May 2012

2823 2823

Jun 2012

2824 2824

Jul 2012

2815 2815

Aug 2012

2820 2820

Sep 2012

2822 2822

Oct 2012

2824 2824

Nov 2012

2809 2809

Dec 2012

2806 2806

Jan 2013

2806 2806

Feb 2013

2806 2806

Mar 2013

2794 2794

Apr 2013

2794 2794

May 2013

2775 2775

Jun 2013

2771 2771

Jul 2013

2761 2761

Aug 2013

2754 2754

Sep 2013

2753 2753

Oct 2013

2739 2739

Nov 2013

2746 2746

Dec 2013

2741 2741

Jan 2014

2736 2736

Feb 2014

2731 2731

Mar 2014

2728 2728

Apr 2014

2728 2728

May 2014

2728 2728

Jun 2014

2729 2729

Jul 2014

2731 2731

Aug 2014

2735 2735

Sep 2014

2735 2735

Oct 2014

2735 2735

Nov 2014

2740 2740

Dec 2014

2743 2743

Jan 2015

2745 2745

Feb 2015

2747 2747

Mar 2015

2748 2748

Apr 2015

2763 2763

May 2015

2753 2753

Jun 2015

2754 2754

Jul 2015

2756 2756

Aug 2015

2760 2760

Sep 2015

2759 2759

Oct 2015

2759 2759

Nov 2015

2766 2766

Dec 2015

2776 2776

Jan 2016

2771 2771

Feb 2016

2778 2778

Mar 2016

2783 2783

Apr 2016

2785 2785

May 2016

2792 2792

Jun 2016

2797 2797

Jul 2016

2800 2800

Aug 2016

2803 2803

Sep 2016

2806 2806

Oct 2016

2804 2804

Nov 2016

2798 2798

Dec 2016

2815 2815

Jan 2017

2813 2813

Feb 2017

2812 2812

Mar 2017

2810 2810

Apr 2017

2798 2798

May 2017

2808 2808

Jun 2017

2805 2805

Jul 2017

2806 2806

Aug 2017

2802 2802

Sep 2017

2799 2799

Oct 2017

2802 2802

Nov 2017

2791 2791

Dec 2017

2794 2794

Jan 2018

2799 2799

Feb 2018

2791 2791

Mar 2018

2792 2792

Apr 2018

2793 2793

May 2018

2791 2790

Jun 2018

2796 2795

Jul 2018

2800 2800

Aug 2018

2802 2802

Sep 2018

2806 2806

Oct 2018

2805 2805

Nov 2018

2808 2808

Dec 2018

2809 2809

Jan 2019

2809 2809

Feb 2019

2812 2811

Mar 2019

2813 2812

Apr 2019

2821 2820

May 2019

2828 2826

Jun 2019

2834 2832

Jul 2019

2831 2829

Aug 2019

2855 2828

Sep 2019

2853 2825

Oct 2019

2838 2829

Nov 2019

2842 2837

Dec 2019

2836 2828

Jan 2020

2855 2842

Feb 2020

2861 2841

Mar 2020

2877 2840

Apr 2020

2875 2833

May 2020

2877 2850

Jun 2020

2882 2859

Jul 2020

2907 2857

Aug 2020

3156 2868

Sep 2020

3122 2875

Oct 2020

2982 2883

Nov 2020

2894 2888

Dec 2020

2893 2890

Jan 2021

2886 2885

Feb 2021

2888 2888

Mar 2021

2888 2888

Apr 2021

2895 2895

May 2021

2889 2889

Jun 2021

2885 2880

Jul 2021

2887 2882

Aug 2021

2886 2883

Sep 2021

2885 2884

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nonresponse follow-up

Enumerators, or census takers, visit every household that has not already responded to the census to ensure a complete and accurate count.

For the 2010 census, nonresponse follow-up occurred from May to July 2010, with hiring peaking in May 2010 at 564,000 employees. In 2020, for the first time, respondents were able to complete the census online or by phone and that led to 63 percent of households self-responding. Census enumerators had to visit 56 million addresses to collect responses in person.6 Nonresponse follow-up took place from July to September 2020, peaking in August at 288,000 workers. Fewer enumerators were needed in 2020 due to the increase in productivity. In 2010 enumerators completed 1.05 cases per hour versus 1.92 cases per hour in 2020.7

Challenges facing the 2020 census

Counting every person in the country is a massive undertaking that involves hundreds of thousands of people and years of planning. Even during normal years, the job is difficult and full of obstacles and in 2020 there were more challenges than usual.

In March 2020, just as invitations to complete the census were mailed out the COVID-19 pandemic began. States ordered residents to stay home, social distance, and wear masks. In-field operations were forced to temporarily stop to ensure the safety of employees and the public. The delay created additional problems, such as pushing peak in-field operations into hurricane and wildfire seasons.8

How the census adapted

The Census Bureau revised the schedule of all remaining phases. Self-response was open from March through October 2020, rather than have a July 2020 cutoff. Nonresponse follow-up, originally scheduled to occur from May to July 2020, was delayed beginning in July through October 2020. The Census Bureau also allowed census takers to conduct nonresponse follow-up with phone calls instead of going door to door. The statutory deadline to deliver the apportionment counts to the President by December 31, 2020 was delayed until April 26, 2021. Additionally, the statutory deadline to deliver the redistricting data by March 31, 2021, but was delayed until September 30, 2021.9

Conclusion

Although advancements in technology required fewer temporary employees to conduct the 2020 census, the global pandemic caused the Census Bureau to delay collection and to hire even fewer employees than expected. Hiring peaked in August 2020 with 288,000 employees, much later and far below than the estimated peak of 500,000 in May 2020.

This Beyond the Numbers article was prepared by Katelynn Harris, economist in Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. E-mail: CESinfo@bls.gov; telephone: (202) 691-6555.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 to access telecommunications relay services or the information voice phone at: (202) 691-5200. This article is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.

Notes

1 The CES program, which provides detailed industry data on employment, hours, and earnings of workers on nonfarm payrolls, is a monthly survey of about 144,000 businesses and government agencies representing approximately 697,000 individual worksites. CES employment estimates are based on payroll data from the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. Thus some employment fluctuations between reference pay periods may not be captured by CES estimates. For more information on the program’s concepts and methodology, see “Technical notes for the Current Employment Statistics survey,” Current Employment Statistics—CES (national) (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm. To access CES data, see https://www.bls.gov/ces/. The CES data are seasonally adjusted unless otherwise noted.

2 For information on collection efforts, see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2020/door-to-door-visits-begin-nationwide.html.

3 For information on address canvassing, see https://www.census.gov/library/fact-sheets/2019/dec/address-canvassing-numbers.html.

4 For information on Census Bureau’s recruitment, see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2020/2020-recruitment.html

5 For information on Census Bureau’s use of technology, see “Innovations for the 2020 census,” February 12, 2020, https://www2.census.gov/about/budget/innovations-2020-census-interim-report-2020-02-12.pdf.

6 For information on door to door knocking, see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2020/door-to-door-visits-begin-nationwide.html.

7 For information on productivity rates, see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2020/11/update-2020-census-data-processing-and-quality.html

8 For information on the challenges the Census Bureau faced, see https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2021/03/unprecedented-challenges.html.

9 For information on how the Census Bureau adjusted operations, see https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/decade/2020/planning-management/operational-adjustments.html.

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Publish Date: Thursday, February 24, 2022

Suggested citation:

Katelynn Harris,   “How did the 2020 census affect employment? ,” Beyond the Numbers, vol. 11, no. 2 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Feb 2022), https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-11/how-did-the-2020-census-affect-employment.htm (visited July 19, 2024).

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