The Labor Department reported that the economy added 162,000 in new jobs in March, of which 48,000 were credited to the government's hiring of people for the U.S. Census -- the first surge in a once-a-decade burst of temporary employment surrounding the the nationwide collection of population statistics.
According to the Associated Press, "Over the next two months, another 600,000 to 700,000 census jobs will be added, putting $10 to $25 an hour into the pockets of some desperate job seekers." These temporary jobs will only last through mid-July, raising the issue of what happens to the Census workers when the process is over?
The economy might add jobs fast enough during the next quarter that the loss of Census jobs won't be felt acutely, but the job-creation rate isn't likely to exceed 100,000 to 200,000 a month. The Congressional Budget Office -- one of the most politically objective government agencies -- expects the unemployment rate to be nearly 10% at midyear, not a terribly optimistic view.
If job formation in the private sector remains slow -- say, below 100,000 a month for the next quarter -- the end of the Census could put enough people out of work to actually push up the unemployment rate in May and June (as could the return to job-seeking of those unemployed workers who had previously given up). This might have the effect of causing many people to believe that the recovery has stopped and that another wave of layoffs has hit the already weakened economy. In a way, that observation would be right: A job is a job, whether it's for the government or the private sector.
The hiring of Census workers has begun to distort job growth on the positive side. In a few months, the unwinding of the process is likely to undermine the perception of the employment recovery.
What Happens When Census Jobs Go Away?