Census Bureau pulled back on job offers, woman says

April 20, 2009

Thinking she'd secured a better gig, Colorado Springs resident Janet Seville quit her $10-an-hour, part-time job at a building company last month.

But when she showed up for her new job last week, she learned it was all a big misunderstanding.

With unemployment in Colorado Springs at a 21-year high, it was a tough break for the 65-year-old divorcee.

Seville thought she had secured a full-time, temporary position at the U.S. Census Bureau making $13.25 an hour.

But Seville said she and nine other applicants were turned away. She said officials told the applicants the Census Bureau had hired too many people.

"They gave it to us and took it away," she said. "I just thought it was horrible. I mean, how can they do that? They just blew it off like it was nothing. I mean, they apologized and said we would get paid for one hour for showing up, and for mileage and travel time, but that's just not good enough."

Seville went to the media. She went to Rep. Doug Lamborn's office.

With the country in the middle of a recession, Seville said, she has few financial resources and isn't sure what she'll do if she can't find another job soon.

Her previous employer filled her position quickly but agreed to let her come back as a substitute, which she did over the weekend.

Seville said she doesn't expect anything to change now, but she wants people to know about the effect a bureaucratic mix-up can have.

A Census Bureau official said the situation is more of a misunderstanding. The bureau hired about 140,000 people nationwide for temporary jobs to get ready for the 2010 Census, the once-a-decade count of everyone who lives in the country.

With that many people, and given the demands of the work, there's bound to be turnover, said spokeswoman Deborah Cameron. Seville was among a group of people on a list as possible replacements when some from earlier waves of hiring departed, Cameron said.

"That training class (Seville attended) was actually designated as a replacement training class, so all people there knew that it was possible, they were in a pool as someone who could replace in terms of carry-over, and they could be used now or they could be used a little bit later," Cameron said.

Seville said she and all the other applicants had good reason to believe they were following up on firm job offers, not just another step in the application process.

She said there was no paperwork recording the job offer, just a phone call March 14 with orders to show up April 1. That was later delayed to an April 16 start date.

It's still possible Seville could be hired. The Census Bureau will hire another 140,000 or so temporary workers in the fall, Cameron said.

"I don't want any help from the government, but I sure didn't want them to hurt me. I am a Christian. For me, there's a reason this is happening, I just don't know what it is yet," Seville said.

Call the writer at 636-0187

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