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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