My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Doubts over 2010 Census’ ability to jumpstart economy

The U.S. government is hiring about 1.2 million temporary workers for the 2010 Census, but it’s questionable whether those positions will give a major, sustained boost to the economy.

Though news outlets such as the New York Times and Bloomberg have reported on expectations that census hiring will jumpstart an economic recovery, others, such as Daniel Indiviglio in the Atlantic, are now asserting that the rebound will be weak at best.

As we’ve noted before, these positions are temporary — about six weeks — so they don’t provide the long-term income that could lead to increased spending or significant improvements in the unemployment rate, now at 10 percent. Indiviglio also makes some interesting points about the nature of the census jobs:

What’s worse, these jobs are utterly unproductive. These aren’t manufacturing jobs where these individuals are creating products to be sold overseas. They’re not infrastructure jobs that will improve roads and make commerce more efficient. They’re not even construction jobs to weatherize homes and help drive down U.S. energy costs. These workers will be walking from door to door and taking a count. Nothing will be produced except for some statistics, with no direct economic value.

Finally, census work might be better than no work, but that’s all it’s better than. These are likely jobs that will contribute very little to most of these individuals’ skill sets and career development. That means, other than perhaps timing, they’ll likely be in no better position to get a good job after the census ends than they were beforehand.

That said, the Census Bureau needs workers and, in this economy, it’s hard to be too critical of officials and economists touting the jobs the census brings, even if the claims of a major economic impact are dubious. As Bloomberg notes, the census is still likely to be the biggest single source of new jobs in the coming months:

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.

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5 Responses to “Doubts over 2010 Census’ ability to jumpstart economy”

  1. Anonymous CL Says:

    It is true that the short-term jobs lasting a few weeks don’t provide much help for the workers’ resumes. But in addition to the huge Non-Response Follow-Up effort, there will be a lot of smaller operations happening as part of the census work this year, that could enable a fraction of the census field workers to go from one project to another and have nearly continuous employment for several months (as much as six months for some).

    The people who manage to do field work as a Crew Leader for several months (to make it a decent length of time) would be able to put on their resume that they supervised about a dozen people (and Field Ops Supervisors could say even more).

    There will also be other additional less-common jobs than enumerators, that run for several months continuously: Office Clerks (several dozen per office), Office Operations Supervisors (about a half-dozen per office), Questionnaire Assistance Center Representatives (several dozen per office, basically acting as customer service reps in outlying locations), and Recruiting Assistants (a couple dozen per office, working out in the field to give tests and promote the jobs). Many of the people who get those jobs will be demonstrating some skills they could put on their resumes.

    Also, I disagree that the Census statistics have no economic value. They are used, among many other ways, by businesses to help decide where to put new locations. It would cost private industry tons of money if each business had to individually re-create the data that the Census Bureau collects and makes available to everyone.

  2. Out of Work Says:

    I have a question for anon CL. Generally, when will the hiring for the crew leaders, assistants, and the rest take place? Has it started? I guess the hiring for recruiting assistants is done since they were the ones administering the test. Am I correct? I could not get a straight answer out of the local office, but it looked full of employees when I was there about four weeks ago.

  3. Anonymous CL Says:

    The reason you “could not get a straight answer out of the local office” is that managers have been telling their Clerks to stick to scripts as much as possible, and avoid saying anything remotely specific about future plans (even when it’s public knowledge), which I know can be very frustrating. So I’ve been taking advantage of anonymity to share what I’ve been able to find out.

    Yes, hiring has started — for some things. They’ve been hiring in phases.

    If you live near an “Early Local Census Office” that’s been open since fall 2008, they likely have more people lined up already for the scarcer jobs, who worked there for Address Canvassing and Group Quarters Validation.

    The non-early “Local Census Offices” are just now in the process of doing their public grand openings, and have been operating for one to three months now. They started with a small staff, and have been gradually adding more people, both in Clerks and in Recruiting Assistants. In my area, the LCO started three months ago, and what may be the last major batch of Recruiting Assistants was hired about a month ago. A big batch of Clerks started a couple weeks ago, too, but some more Clerks will probably be added in March/April when things really get busy. There will also still be occasional replacements hired for people who leave partway-through. The RAs will work till April/May, and some Clerks (not all) may work as long as August/September wrapping things up.

    Questionnaire Assistance Center Representatives will be hired in the first half of February for Update-Leave areas (most rural), and late February to early March for Mailout-Mailback areas (most urban/suburban). (Like with the CL/enumerator/etc positions, the hiring will be based on where you live, to get people who are close to and familiar with the area and its residents.) They will work till mid-April.

    Crew Leaders, Crew Leader Assistants, and Enumerators are hired in widely varying phases as the different projects come and go. Here’s what I’ve heard of expected timeframes for upcoming 2010 hiring:
    - CLs for Group Quarters Advance Visit (and will be reused for Group Quarters Enumeration later) are being hired right now. Enumerators for Group Quarters Enumeration will be hired in March.
    - CLs and CLAs for Update-Leave and Update-Enumerate (some LCOs’ territories include U-L, some include U-E, some include neither) will be hired in late January to early February, and Enumerators will be hired in February.
    - CLs for Transitory Locations will be hired in February, and Enumerators in the first half of March.
    - Hiring of CLs, CLAs, and Enumerators for Non-Response Follow-Up will start in mid-February and will have the majority hired by around the end of March, but will continue trickling in more people until the end of April.
    - CLs and Enumerators for Field Verification will be hired in mid-June to mid-July.
    - Vacant Delete Check will only re-hire CLs and Enumerators from earlier operations, in the first half of July.

    The rare Office Operations Supervisors positions are mostly filled by now, except for a few at some offices that got a late start. Field Operations Supervisors will be hired for each of the above-listed field operations before the rest of the people (CLs/CLAs/Enumerators) are hired; some operations might have a couple FOSes per office, some might have a half-dozen or more. OOSes and FOSes have to take an extra test that is offered much less often than the normal test, so many people might not get a chance at these.

    Anyone who hasn’t taken the test yet should do so ASAP – don’t wait until the hiring starts for what you’re hoping for, because the paperwork takes a week or two to process after your test before you’re able to be hired. Once you are hired over the phone, training and work won’t start immediately for most people, it will usually be at least a week later, sometimes as much as a month or more if you’re one of the earliest hires in a phase (it takes time for them to work their way through calling enough applicants).

  4. Out of Work Says:

    Wow, that was great information. You went way above and beyond my original question, thanks!

    I took the test a little over one month ago and scored what I think was pretty well (1 wrong) Thanks to your information, I will be a little more patient now.

    Thanks again!

  5. Anonymous CL Says:

    You’re welcome!