ASHTABULA — The county has hundreds of U.S. Census jobs available and is struggling to find workers to fill them.

J.P. Ducro, Ashtabula County commissioners president and member of the Ashtabula County Census Committee, made a public plea for applicants at Monday’s Ashtabula City Council meeting. There are about 300 openings for those 18 and older starting at $16 per hour and ranging from part-time to full-time, 15 to 40 hours per week.

“If we can’t find local people to fill these positions they’re going to be importing people from out of the county for these jobs, so we’d much rather have local people doing this work,” he said.

Hours are flexible, including weekends and evenings. People can apply online at 2020census.gov/jobs.

Jobs have already begun and work goes in phases. This summer, jobs will include primarily verifying addresses to be sure they are still valid. Work will ramp up again in fall and after the “first of the year it will be ‘full throttle’” until the middle of next summer.

The official count date will be April 1, 2020.

“(We’ve had) a lot of difficulty filling these positions,” Ducro said. “There’s lots of openings. It’s a very, very simple process, some basic background questions. You have to have access to transportation and access to the internet ... other than that, there’s not a whole lot of requirements.”

While the Census, and the subsequent work, will be more prominent in the next six to 12 months, the biggest issue leading up to the count has been whether the questionnaire will include a citizenship question. There were mixed messages from the Trump administration this week on the next step.

After the Supreme Court struck down the question in a June 27 ruling on the basis of the administration’s justification for its inclusion — but left open the potential to add the question if officials provided better reasoning — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Justice Department lawyers said Tuesday they were dropping the question and moving forward with printing the questionnaires.

“The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question,” Ross said in a statement Tuesday. “My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete an accurate census.”

However, on Wednesday, President Trump sent out a tweet contradicting Ross and the Justice Department.

“The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.” 

Following the tweet, Justice Department lawyers told a federal court they had been “instructed” to find a way to add the question.

Trump has said he is considering seeking to delay the Census until the issue of the citizenship question is resolved.

U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce supported the effort to put the question on the Census, though in light of the Supreme Court ruling he said the administration should go forward with the Census on time without the question.

“Asking a question about citizenship on the census would provide legislators with information needed to come up with real solutions to fix our broken immigration system that appeal to both sides of the aisle. How can we truly address the immigration crisis our nation is facing if we aren’t willing to understand the very problem we are trying to solve?” he said.

Ducro said Monday not having the citizenship question would likely alleviate some concerns about the confidentiality regarding Census information, even though there are strict laws regarding sharing such information — only the individual named on a census questionnaire, and their legal heir, can access the information for 72 years after its collection.

“The Census is not about counting citizens, it’s about counting residents and human beings,” he said, adding in terms of confidentiality, “They can’t even report crimes if they should happen to see them while they’re out taking census data. ... They’re not out to catch anyone who is not a legal immigrant, they’re not out to catch anybody who might be making meth in their house. We need to get an accurate count of residents in our communities.”

However, Census Bureau reports indicated that if the citizenship question is part of the Census it would depress responses among the hispanic and immigrant communities.

But getting an accurate count of residents — not citizens — is crucial, officials say. Ducro said for every person not counted it amounts to a loss of $2,000 per year for 10 years in a community, via various grants and federal and state funding that are based on population size. 

“Since 1790, the Census has provided Congress with the information it needs to make informed policy decisions in the best interest of our constituents and the country. Without the Census, we wouldn’t be able to accurately determine how much funding cities and states receive for critical services like education,” Joyce said.

Responding to the Census will be easier than ever, Ducro said. People can reply via the paper form, phone or online. Those who don’t respond will receive a home visit from a Census worker.

Ducro said both Ashtabula County and the city have seen population dips in the last Census, but officials are beginning to question whether there has been a true population decline or whether there has simply been a dip in Census response.

Ashtabula City Manager Jim Timonere said a lot of the area's grant funding is determined by the Census, and while the city has stayed above the threshold needed to qualify for things like Community Development Block Grants, they must continue to do so and getting everyone counted is key to that.

“It is extremely important that people take this Census seriously and fill out that paperwork. You can’t say access is an issue this time, there are tons of ways to get this done,” he said.