Two and a half weeks ago a representative from the U.S. Census Bureau came to the council meeting to ask the councilors for ideas about how to find people willing to work. She informed the council she was having a hard time filling the more than 100 temporary positions the Census Bureau had open for people willing to knock on doors this spring to collect basic demographic information, and she was looking for any possible assistance. The council directed her to the employment office, which she said she’d already been to. They gave her a few more suggestions, but largely they had no idea.
The Census bureau website describes the jobs: “These short-term jobs offer good pay, flexible hours, paid training, and reimbursement…”
$15 per hour plus mileage for about two months starting in April. The training starts in February. That’s not bad, at least for a few months. The requirements are you have to be at least 18, a U.S. citizen, and you have to pass a written test, which the woman from the census bureau said wasn’t difficult. The website calls it, “a multiple-choice test of basic skills.”
Nevertheless, the woman said, the Bureau is having trouble finding people to fill the jobs.
That surprised me. Honestly, when she said $15 an hour on a flexible schedule several of us looked at each other and discussed car pooling. That seems like a great offer. I knock on doors all the time for work; what’s a few hours more?
It struck me as odd that these jobs would be so quickly passed over. After all the talk of jobs in the last municipal election, here are more than a hundred jobs open to almost anyone in Berlin, and they can’t fill their ranks. Is it that Berlin needs jobs, or that people want better jobs? The non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Berlin (last updated in November 2009) is 8 percent. Considering the national rate is above 10 percent, that’s not bad. It certainly doesn’t compare to Pittsburgh (11.2 percent), Stark (11.5 percent), Colebrook (13.9 percent), Stewartstown (15.7 percent) or Stratford (18.2 percent). There’s been so much discussion about jobs, I had to wonder how dire the need is in Berlin if people aren’t coming out for these ones.
Maybe Berlin has an underemployment problem, not an unemployment problem. Maybe people don’t want to quit working for minimum wage to make double their paycheck for a couple of months. That makes more sense, but with flexible hours and the legendary Berlin work ethic that hardly explains this situation away.
I am confused. It caught me off guard to hear about these jobs remaining vacant. It seems in this economy, in this region, people would gobble up such opportunities. Are people just not hearing about them? Do they have some aversion to working for the U.S. Government? (That doesn’t make sense—people seem interested in the federal prison.) Are they the wrong kind of jobs? I know they are temporary and without benefits, but I would think when you need work what the job is wouldn’t matter. Maybe for some people it does, particularly after they are accustomed to a certain level of income.
It struck me as strange, a phenomenon worth noting. If anyone has any insights I’d love to hear them. I’ve seen how hard Berliners are willing to work, so to me it just doesn’t add up. Maybe someone can explain the arithmetic.