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Amy Traub

The Census in a Time of Unemployment

"Laid-off professionals line up for part-time census jobs," reports the Washington Post. Out-of-work lawyers, business consultants and other professionals are lining up for positions to knock on doors and collect census data. It's not a surprising headline at a time of persistently high unemployment, but it should be a provocative one.

Consider what's going on here: unemployed people get a much-needed paycheck; taxpayers pay for it, and benefit as a constitutionally-mandated public need is met. The American population will get counted, and unemployment will decrease as a result.

As a public jobs program, it's far from ideal: the census jobs are temporary, they don't fully utilize the skills of many job seekers, and it's limited by nature - not many public functions, like the census, are mandated by the constitution. But its efficiency and effectiveness should make us think again about the opportunities to put people to work performing services the public needs. No massive federal bureaucracy would be necessary: provide funds to the nation's cities, where local officials are already steeped in the most immediate needs of their communities, and municipal governments will put local residents to work.

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Posted at 11:39 AM, Mar 08, 2010 in Employment
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