Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau takes a demographic snapshot of the American population, determining how many people reside within our country’s borders, who they are, and where they live. The results help determine our representation in government, as well as how federal funds are spent in our communities on things like roads, parks, housing, schools, and public safety.
And during some of the harshest economic conditions in American history, the federal government set out to take the latest U.S. Census, and, in the process created an unlikely stimulus package for thousands of Americans who were out of work: over a million census takers hired to help compile the 2010 figures. As such, census-related hiring had an immediate impact on America’s staggering unemployment rates.
But following months of creating much-needed jobs for a struggling workforce, the Census Bureau is ending its decennial work, and with it, the employment of hundreds of thousands of workers. According to The New York Times, “the Census Bureau is shedding hundreds of thousands of workers — about 225,000 in just the last few weeks, enough to account for a jot or two in the unemployment rate, say federal economists. Most of those remaining will be gone by August; a few will last into September. In past decades, the bureau faced a challenge just keeping workers around to close up shop, as most dashed for new jobs that might pay better. Not this time around. Jobs remain scarce. In Rhode Island, the unemployment rate stands at 12.3 percent, higher than a year ago. The national rate, too, has not budged. As most census workers have nowhere to go, rushed farewells are rare. Self-reflection, and a touch of anxiety, mark the mood. ‘Typically, at this point in the process, we’re losing a lot of people because they’re taking jobs,’ said Kathleen Ludgate, the regional director in Boston. ‘I wish we had that problem now.’”
Many of the men and women of the Census teams represented mature or middle-aged recently laid-off workers, who saw Census work as a way to make ends meet during these tough economic times. And while the door-to-door Census work didn’t pay much (averaging $15 dollars an hour), it was more than enough to give a beleaguered bunch of previously jobless Americans the much-needed confidence of applying their minds and bodies to a collective goal. Now, that the jobs have ended many are being forced back into the uncertainty of unemployment.
But it’s not all bad news on the homefront. As the Times reported, “Many departing census workers will be eligible for unemployment, although by no means all of them. Some census employees, particularly those who knocked on doors — known as enumerators — worked in fits and starts. They were dispatched intensively, then laid off, then rehired. Unemployment rules are a crazy quilt, with no two states quite the same.”
The desperation of many of these workers, and others like them, often depends on both job prospects following their temporary jobs and how much debt they may have accrued while looking for more permanent employment.
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