Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Census Economics

Writes Vedran Vuk, an analyst with Casey Research:
Digging a bit deeper, we find that this year, 723,000 door-to-door Census takers will be needed in comparison to 2000’s 604,000, a 16.6 percent increase despite the lack of an equivalent rise in the population.

The hiring numbers are pushed upward by the low total working hours per employee. On average, each temporary Census employee will work 19 hours a week for six weeks. But "work" may not be the most appropriate word. The Census estimates that only 47.8 million houses will require a Census worker to visit. Divide this by 723,000 census takers to get 66 houses per worker. Since each temp will be employed for six weeks, this translates into less than two houses visited per workday.

The spending side of the Census equation doesn’t make much sense either. According to a Census Bureau press release, mailing back the form costs the government only 42 cents, while visiting a house costs 56 dollars.

Why does it cost 56 dollars to visit just one house! Even with repeat visits, this seems a lot. Imagine that pizza delivery were this expensive.

This wasted money will go toward boosting the GDP by 0.1% and 0.2% during Q1 and Q2, followed by equivalent declines in Q3 and Q4. Some parts of the country will get more than others, according to various pay rates. The Washington D.C. Census office offers $20 per hour, San Francisco $22, and Anchorage, Alaska, pays the most at $25 per hour. On the lower end, Tupelo, MS, pays $10.50; Beckley, WV, $10.75; El Paso, TX, $12.75 per hour.
But what about the vast increase in free lunches a community could receive as a result of the Census data?
And what about money allocated through Census data? The Census marketing campaign has claimed that filling out the Census will help your community. Certainly, in 2007, nearly $436 billion were redistributed through the aid of Census data. But helping the community might be stretching it – unless one considers welfare payments as "helping the community." Examining the long list of programs reveals that little will help net taxpayers, other than road-building projects.

Government cannot improve one individual’s situation without taking away from another. Just as it does for any government program, this applies to money allocated by the Census. This helps the community about as much as mugging somebody on the street. Hey, someone in the community got the money, right?

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