MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Here's a catch phrase for you: One of the shortest forms in history. That's how the U.S. Census Bureau describes your census form. And this Thursday, April 1st, is the day the bureau wants you to turn in that form. The 10 questions are meant to count, as accurately as possible, how many people there are in the United States on that day.

And this year the census bureau isn't just counting people, it's hiring them. Because of the bad economy, it's hiring very qualified people, which may lead to a more efficient census operation. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Herman Kopecek is a would-be college professor who has taught history, philosophy and business ethics. But with teaching jobs hard to find, Kopecek and his Ph.D. are now working for the census. His job title?

Mr. HERMAN KOPECEK (U.S. Census Bureau): Clerk.

NAYLOR: Okay.

Mr. KOPECEK: C-L-E-R-K, clerk.

NAYLOR: And, Kopecek says, he's perfectly okay with that.

Mr. KOPECEK: Some people would say I'm overqualified, but I do not look at it as any kind of a step down or anything for me. I'm very happy to have this job. I get fulfillment out of it. I know I can do it well. And to tell you the truth, it's less stressful than teaching.

NAYLOR: Kopecek is at the Seattle Regional Census Center, where his tasks include helping hire other census workers. He says he's found quite a few professionals in the same boat: well trained, but unable to find work in their chosen fields.

Mr. KOPECEK: I've met people at my office who've had various backgrounds -economics, perhaps - in creative fields such as the theater, other people with a Ph.D. It is absolutely due to the state of the economy and more reduced opportunities.

NAYLOR: With the unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, professionals of all stripes have taken a look at job prospects and decided a temporary gig with the census looks pretty darn good. Loisa Maritza White works at the Washington, D.C. census office.

Ms. LOISA MARITZA WHITE (U.S. Census Bureau): I belong to a particular job group, and many of them are in the same position. They are professionals, they have been in the workforce for a number of years, and yet they're having a hard time landing that perfect job. So until then, this, I think, bridges the gap for many people.

NAYLOR: White, who is 55, had been an office manager and is taking graduate courses. Her position with the census and the money it pays has come in handy.

Ms. WHITE: The census job came at a perfect time. It allows me to have those additional funds that I need in order to get through school.

NAYLOR: The census will hire over a million temporary workers for a range of jobs paying up to $25 an hour.

Susan Williams is office operations assistant at the same Washington census office. She took a census job after being laid off from her law firm.

Ms. SUSAN WILLIAMS (U.S. Census Bureau): It's tough out there. There are definitely a lot of other attorneys out there who are looking for work.

Mr. ROBERT GROVES (Director, U.S. Census Bureau): What we're finding now is the quantity and quality of the applicant pool is just incredible.

NAYLOR: That's Robert Groves. A Ph.D. himself, Groves is director of the Census Bureau.

He says the census has been the indirect beneficiary of what he labels a terrible recession.

Mr. GROVES: We have people with a depth of experience at running organizations running some of our local census offices. We have people with much better IT skills than in general, and when it comes down to doing operations, they need the money, so they work hours that we need them to work.

NAYLOR: The upshot, Groves says: work is getting done faster than anticipated and under budget. His only wish - that the census could do even more for the unemployment rate.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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