Good news for job seekers in a tight economy: The Census Bureau is recruiting workers.

The bureau's Charleston office plans to hire about 300 Charleston-area residents in February to gear up for the 2010 census. Pay starts at $14 an hour, and you can work out of your house either part time or full time.

The census is important because it's the tool the federal government uses to allocate $300 billion in federal money each year, according to Tony Jones, media specialist for the Census Bureau's regional office in Charlotte. Uncounted residents mean less money for local projects.

"It could mean that road with potholes will never be filled," he said.

Boosting the numbers is especially important in this economy, with state and federal dollars shrinking.

Congressional election district lines will be redrawn after this census, so votes are also at stake.

South Carolina residents are among the most uncooperative in the nation when it comes to the census. Only 58 percent of S.C. households responded to the 2000 census, according to the Census Bureau's Web site. Only Puerto Rico (53 percent) and Alaska (56 percent) were lower. The national average was 67 percent.

Berkeley County's response rate was 61 percent; Charleston, 56 percent; and Dorchester, 66 percent.

Residents are required by law to cooperate with the census, but census workers don't push it when people refuse, Charleston Office Manager DePayne Doctor said.

To help foster more cooperation in neighborhoods that typically avoid the census, the bureau tries to hire people who live there so that residents see a familiar face at the door, she said.

When workers simply can't get the information, the bureau relies on formulas to project population and demographics, she said.

The census forms are mailed out in March 2010, but the census starts long before that. The Charleston office opened in November.

The first assignment of the workers that are hired will be verifying addresses. They don't have to knock on any doors for this, just make sure all the houses are on the mailing list.

The next phase is checking out dormitories, nursing homes and even homeless shelters.

This might involve talking with the directors.

Workers don't go out knocking on doors until April 2010. They'll visit those who don't return the forms.

"Of course they want to know what this is for, but when you tell them you're with the Census Bureau, they're usually pretty cooperative," DePayne said.