PITTSFIELD — The jobs are temporary, but they pay $18 an hour and there are lots of them — with too few applicants.

Every 10 years, the federal government hires more than half a million people to help it count how many people live in the United States.

Believe it or not, that translates to 833 jobs in Berkshire County.

Uncle Sam wants you. For a few weeks.

"It's a huge job and an important job," said Timothy Olson, assistant director of field operations for the Census Bureau, speaking this week in a hiring kickoff event in Phoenix monitored online by The Eagle.

"We're urging people to get into the applicant pool," Olson said. "It's not too early, but it's not too late."

Mark Maloy, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission staffer who leads the countywide Complete Count Committee, said that, as of this week, about 250 people had applied for census jobs in the region.

"They've got to get people hired," Maloy said of the agency. "It takes three months to get the background checks done."

To apply, people 18 and older can go online to 2020census.gov/jobs or call 855-562-2020. The jobs start in early 2020 and will run for several weeks. Candidates are encouraged to have cars but do not need them if they have access to public transit.

Olson, the census official, said the government marked a milestone last week when it confirmed the validity of 50 million addresses in 1.1 million census blocks. For that, the bureau hired 22,000 people, Olson said.

"As our first major field operation, it worked," he said.

The next step ramps up the challenge. The bureau hopes to receive 2.7 million applications for the 500,000 jobs it will fill in 2020 for the actual count.

That work will involve chasing after people who did not complete census documents mailed to addresses across the country — and in Berkshire County.

People hired as "enumerators" will work about 20 to 25 hours a week and set their own schedules. Candidates willing to work evenings and weekends are particularly needed, Olson said in the census event this week, because that's when people are home.

It takes about 30 minutes to apply online. The process includes a mandatory check of a candidate's background, including criminal records.

One census official told The Eagle that people should be patient after applying, but can check the status of their candidacies online after registering.

Candidates who move on through the hiring process must schedule fingerprinting as well.

As it launched its recruiting drive this week, the Census Bureau said it had 900,000 applications in the hopper, including several hundred from Berkshire County.

The decennial census has been conducted since 1790 and is required by the U.S. Constitution. Its findings are used to apportion political representation in Congress and for the distribution of federal aid to states.

The first census counted 3.9 million Americans. The most recent one tallied more than 300 million residents of the country.

Olson noted this week that census workers do not share information with law enforcement agencies or immigration authorities.

A move by the Trump administration to include a question about citizenship was blocked by three federal judges.

"Once we receive your data, it's locked in a vault," Olson said of responses to the survey.

Candidates for census jobs, though, must be U.S. citizens. They also must have valid Social Security numbers, email addresses and access to a computer for online training. Men must be registered with the Selective Service System or have an exemption if born after Dec. 31, 1959.

Candidates can hold other jobs, but that work cannot conflict with the census positions, according to the bureau.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com or 413-588-8341.