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Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Census Bureau Comes To The Rescue Of The Labor Department!

The labor department released its employment snapshot for May yesterday - and the results were no surprise as far as I was concerned: the census bureau hired 411,000 new employees for jobs that last 2 to 4 weeks, while private employers added less than a tenth as many employees.

They could have gotten that information directly from me instead of spending time conducting their elaborate employment survey because my local census office was probably responsible for about half of that census hiring! Kidding aside, though, census workload has been in a steady decline since at least the end of April (April was probably one of the busiest times for the census since that is when they have to put together the binders for the enumerators), as far as I could tell from working there. But for some reason, it looks like it is not just my local census office that went on a hiring binge just as work was drying up. Census offices throughout the country seem to have gone on a similar hiring binge with absolutely no justification, or regard for the actual amount of work.

Which brings up an interesting point about the employment snapshot released by the department of labor: what do they count as job creation? Any job, even if it pays minimum wage and is for 4 hours a week (or even no hours at all)? Certainly looks like it, because all the new hires at my local census office got nothing more than 16 to 20 hours in their schedule this week. And then, more shifts were cut by phone call during the week, making their actual work hours much less than even the anemic hours they were scheduled for to begin with. I was scheduled to work for 20 hours this week, but I was called and told not to come in on two days. Then today and yesterday, my shift was cut down to 3 hours each from 4, so I worked only 10 hours this week. I am scheduled for 12 hours next week, so I expect to put in about 6 hours after all the adjustments they make to my schedule!

It looks like the government is using the census as an excuse to pump up the job creation numbers purely for political reasons. I think the managers at the local census officers were told to hire as many people as possible regardless of whether they had work to do or not. After all, hiring costs the census bureau only about $50 in pay for the 4-hour training the employee goes through (enumerators go through a more extensive training program, but office workers only train for a half day). After that, they get paid only for the hours they work, so they are technically employees (and count towards job creation for the employment report), but cost the employer absolutely nothing. Very creative, and very convenient too! And they wonder why the population is so cynical about government. Duh!!

Well, unfortunately for the government, census bureau employment has peaked and is not likely to be amenable to this type of manipulation going forward. They could make the 2010 census extra accurate by extending it and creating a lot more work that was not done as part of previous censuses (or should it be censi?). Or they could force local census offices to hire a few hundred more employees each just to keep pumping up the employment numbers. All these new hires would be sitting at home and staring hopefully at the phone, willing the census office to ring them up and ask them to come in for a couple of hours of work. But the labor department can count them as part of the job creation numbers, and produce more uplifting reports for a few more months.

Maybe it would be best to completely ignore the employment numbers for the next few months until these shenanigans work their way through and out of the system. But, what is the guarantee that the government will not invent some new scheme to manipulate these reports? In fact, thinking back on this, I have come to the conclusion that the employment report is probably one of the easiest to manipulate, and therefore should be given the least weighting when it comes to evaluation of the state of the economy. If it is not the census, the government will probably invent some other scheme to employ people and not pay them. Let us see, who wants employment as martian security guards (you will get paid on an hourly rate after manned colonies are established on Mars, and the government requires security guards to protect them against green-skinned martians. At this point, we don't know when that will be, but at least you will have employment in the meantime!)?

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