The local Census office is hiring about 600 people from lower Fairfield County to conduct the census this spring.

It's almost three times as many workers compared to the 2000 Census when 600 people covered all of southwest Connecticut, Bill Gleason, the local Census office manager, said from his Bridgeport office.

Some of these temporary jobs, which pay $14.25 to $21.75 per hour, will be available in the next few months, but most will begin in early spring, Gleason said.

The office hired about 700 people earlier this year to check addresses for the census mailing in February and March 2010, he said.

The next round of employees hired will be contacting residents who do not send back their Census forms in spring 2010.

It's a big operation, Gleason said, because in the 2000 Census, only 66 percent of Stamford residents returned the federal questionnaire. Each of those households is visited by a Census taker to ensure the information is collected.

The Census, taken every 10 years, affects political representation and directs the allocation of more than $300 billion a year to states and communities. It also helps determine the placement of schools, roads, hospitals, and child-care and senior centers.

To become a Census taker, applicants must be 18 or older, and citizens or residents with a visa. They must have proper identification, commit to four days of training, and must pass an FBI background check, Gleason said.

Each applicant must take a 30-minute test that includes basic math and reading comprehension. The test score determines the applicant's placement on a list in their community.

It's particularly important for Stamford and Greenwich residents to apply, Gleason said.

"It's an affluent area where it's hard to get workers," he said. "Some do it for their civic duty, but they don't necessarily want to put in 40 hours a week."

Gleason said he is unsure how the economic crisis and the state's unemployment rate of more than 8 percent will affect the applications.

Treva Franks, director of workforce development at CTE Inc. in Stamford, said "the buzz" around the Census is growing.

Franks couldn't estimate how many inquiries she'd received at CTE, a work force training organization, but said she would recommend the Census taker position to "basically anyone who is unemployed."

To be a Census taker, preregister for the 30-minute exam by calling the Bridgeport Census office at 203-993-8030, the national hotline at 1-866-861-2010 or visit the Web site at www.census.gov. The office will provide you with a list of nearby test sites.