Friday, I reported that the U.S. employment situation is murky at best, with 85,000 more jobs lost in December and jobless Americans becoming more discouraged. But many of those having trouble finding a job could be in for a stroke of good luck: it's a census year. That means over a million temporary workers will be hired in the first half of this year to count Americans. A recent article from Bloomberg argues that this hiring could jumpstart an employment rebound. I doubt it.
First, this work may, indeed, serve as a sort of "bridge" for those who get the census jobs. Perhaps after being employed in that capacity for some months, the economy will have improved. That way, we'll have fewer people on unemployment during that time, and when they hit the job market again, it may have improved slightly.
Yet, I disagree with Bloomberg when it says:
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.
"It's a short-term stimulus program in which the government's injecting money into the economy through additional paychecks," said Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York, who projects that 2.5 million more Americans will be working at the end of the year. "This will support consumer income during those months."
I have trouble understanding why these jobs would do anything on their own to actually improve the economy. The lion's share of these temporary workers will likely leave their unemployment checks behind to collect a paycheck from the U.S. Census Bureau instead. In other words, Uncle Sam will just be handing them money from a different pocket. And unless these jobs are surprisingly lucrative, I doubt he'll be handing them a whole lot more money than most of them were collecting on unemployment anyway.
As a result, we won't really see more spending as a result of temporary census jobs. Indeed, anyone who has these jobs will still be especially cautious about opening his or her wallet, since these jobs are temporary by nature. These workers will probably want to save whatever they can, because once these jobs end, they'll be thrust back into an awful job market.
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.
So are temporary census jobs better than nothing? Sure. But I see no reason to believe they'll have any kind of stimulating effect on the economy.
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