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Census Hiring Slows Job Losses, Kind of

By Ed O'Keefe

The unemployment figures released today show 539,000 jobs lost in April, slightly less than the 600,000 expected by analysts. As The Post's Annys Shin and Scott Wilson report, the private sector loss was offset somewhat by the addition of 72,000 government jobs -- most of them connected with the 2010 Census.

The Census Bureau hired roughly 140,000 people to complete address canvassing this Spring and early Summer, one of the largest peacetime mobilizations ever conducted by the federal government.

But while the Census may have slowed the unemployment growth, a recent report from the fantastic Census-tracking site MyTwoCensus.com reveals that some of the bureau's regional offices hired so many temporary employees that they finished their work well before their promised June end date.

Former New York Times reporter Laura Mansnerus recently wrote about her experiences as a Census work team leader in Philadelphia, where she led 19 address canvassers that finished their work in two weeks:

My supervisor, Ian Hemphill, said we would be all working all-out, full-time and furiously, because the Philadelphia region was behind schedule. It took me a week and a half to start wondering about this. The crew leaders and assistants had already knocked out a few assignment areas. Even fumbling with the balky software on our little hand-held computers, you could finish an AA in a day. My district had 90 AA’s left to assign. I’d have 15 listers. ...
... We could finish the whole thing in a week. Given some slow listers and half-functioning computers, it would take two weeks. ... The Census Bureau was about to screw a bunch of barely employed people. They had been told they would work until June. They wouldn’t.

Regional directors apparently promised more work once workers finished their assignments, but nothing materialized:

Listers who needed to reopen their unemployment claims asked if the Census Bureau would provide letters to certify that they were out of work. No, The Census Bureau wouldn’t do such things.
Many people had passed up other temp jobs or even quit jobs to take jobs with the Census Bureau. “What am I going to do?” said one middle-aged woman whose other job was passing out samples at a liquor store a few hours a week. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said, six or seven times. She gave me phone numbers of a couple market research firms that convened focus groups.

In everything there is a silver lining...

Don't forget to watch The Federal Eye's video tutorial on how the Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles the nation's monthly unemployment data.

By Ed O'Keefe  | May 8, 2009; 5:05 PM ET
Categories:  Census  
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Next: Eye Opener: May 11, 2009

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