Sunday, January 10, 2010

Census as Jobs Program Still not Good Enough

It would appear that the administration has decided that the 2010 census is the latest stimulus program.

In yesterday's writeup of the poor employment numbers, Bloomberg wrote up a "talking head" or two as pointing out there would be a boost to the economy from hiring over a million census workers. I pointed that out as cheerleading in my post on the jobs data, titled: Jobs Friday: More Establishment Cheerleading as Hard Times Continue, but did not imagine that the census effort would actually merit its own story. But it did, and it's easy to imagine that this is part of an effort to keep people's hopes up that prosperity is right around the corner, if it's not here already (GDP and stocks rising and all that stuff). Here is Bloomberg today in Census Jobs May Jump-Start U.S. Employment Rebound in 2010:

The 2010 census couldn’t have come at a better time for the U.S. economy.

The government will hire about 1.2 million temporary workers in the first half of the year to administer the decennial population count, possibly providing a bridge to gains in private employment later in the year.

So far, OK. It's what comes next that's troubling:

The surge will probably dwarf any hiring by private employers early in 2010 as companies delay adding staff until they are convinced the economic recovery will be sustained. Money earned by the clipboard-toting workers going door-to-door to verify the government population survey is likely to be spent, giving the economy an extra lift.

Now just think about the first sentence, which states that the census hiring will "probably dwarf" private hiring. But if the optimists are right, jobs will have a "V" recovery and per the very next paragraph of the article, Barclay's' Dean Maki has the economy adding 2.5 million jobs this year. In that scenario, the census hiring "dwarfs" nothing. Is Bloomberg setting us up for ongoing weak jobs numbers?

One reason I am sensing a concerted administration/Establishment effort here comes from the 2000 census. From Census Day, 2000, put out by the Census Bureau:


- The Census Bureau plans to hire and train more than half a million
people to conduct Census 2000; these temporary workers are drawn from a
pool of 3 million applicants. As of February, more than 60 percent of the
applicants were women and more than 65 percent of total applicants, 40 or

- Enumerator pay rates range from $8.25 per hour to $18.50 per hour.

- It costs taxpayers an extra $35 each time an enumerator goes out to
retrieve a census form. On the other hand, it cost only $3 if the
respondent mails their form back.

The Census Bureau appears to have treated the effort as a cost center. Ten years ago, 500,000+ temp hires occurred. This year, it looks as though the about 1.2 million hires will be at least twice as many hires per capita as were needed then. On its face, this appears to be the same type of employment practice that the city of Chicago has perfected at its convention center and elsewhere: two (or more) people to do the job of one. We may get one census hire to drive the car, ring the doorbell, and carry the forms, and the other to do the interviewing. Whatever it takes to pump up the employment numbers.

A census was taken during the recession years of 1980 and 1990. I am hard-pressed to imagine/remember anyone thinking of this as a "stimulus". It's a sign of desperation in an administration and Establishment that have been blind-sided by the weakness in the real economy and that are searching for crumbs of good news. After all, a rising stock market is small beer come election time. The watchword is found in James Baker's classic one-word justification for the 1991 Gulf War: "Jobs". With yesterday's BLS survey showing "Not in labor force" increasing by an unbelievable 843,000 in December alone (approximately 10 million annualized!), you can imagine that Barack Obama has more on his mind than the racial insensitivity shown by Senate Majority Leader Reid during the campaign. Team O must be sweating bullets. The year-ago prediction of 8% peak unemployment if only the ARRA "stimulus" bill would get passed has begun to smell as rancid as other classics such as "Read my lips: no new taxes" and "Mission accomplished".

The truth is that census hiring is to real hiring as ketchup is to a vegetable. Of course the administration and Bloomberg know this, but when you lack a bazooka, fire your popgun.

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2010


  1. The Obama administration has demonstrated its incompetence and corruption in the economic realm. "Spinning" the census fits into this sad profile.

  2. With the poor education of these workers, they needed more fingers for the count.

  3. Anon: Best witticism of the day!