A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

More Census Nonsense


Here are a couple of new falsehoods being circulated about the Census, to add to the bogus claims we told you about back in March:

  • It’s not true that Census workers can demand that your landlord let Census workers into your apartment when you are absent, as claimed by a conservative former House member.
  • And it’s also not true that the Census Bureau is artificially inflating official employment figures by causing temporary hires to be counted multiple times, as claimed by a newspaper columnist.

Both of these falsehoods have already started to circulate on the Internet, and we’ve been asked about both of them. So here are the facts:

Bob Barr’s Bunk

Former Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, a Republican, claimed in a May 26 item in his blog that "Census workers can enter your apartment in your absence."  But Census says that’s simply not true, and we find no evidence to support Barr’s claim. He failed to do his homework.

It’s true that the law (13 U.S.C. 223) requires landlords and building managers to give Census workers "free ingress" to "any hotel, apartment house, boarding or lodging house, tenement, or other building." But Census spokeswoman Shelly Lowe told us, "This means into the building, not the residence itself, in order to be able to knock on the resident’s door, not into individual apartments." And that’s true; nowhere does the law require landlords to let Census workers into an "apartment" or dwelling when nobody is home.

Furthermore, the Census manual for its enumerators gives specific instructions on "Procedures to Follow When No One Is Home," and these procedures do not include entering an apartment or dwelling. Rather, the manual requires workers to come back later and try again, and to ask neighbors who lives there and how to contact them. Lowe says, "We specifically instruct census takers never to ask to enter a resident’s home. We certainly would not allow them [to] try to enter a home if the residents are not even present."

Barr also refers to "the increasingly intrusive questions" Census workers are asking, but that makes us wonder if he has even read the questionnaire. It has 10 questions per resident, and Census says this is one of the shortest in its history.

Post Hack Fallacy

We’re also being asked about claims reported by New York Post columnist John Crudele, who wrote that Census was engaging in "some statistical tricks" to inflate the number of workers that it reports to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Crudele based his claim on reports from three Census workers, two of whom were not named.

But Census denies that what Crudele described is actually happening. And we can report that even if it is happening, it would not have any effect on jobs figures reported by the BLS. Crudele misunderstands — or at least, did not report accurately — the way jobs figures are gathered.

The sources he quoted claimed that they had been hired, fired and re-hired a number of times. Each time, Crudele claimed, "Census was able to report the creation of a new job to the Labor Department." But that’s not true.

For one thing, Census officials flatly deny that any such hiring and re-hiring is going on. In May 25 letters to the heads of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Census Director Robert M. Groves called the Post article a "distortion." He stated:

Census Director Groves, May 25: [W]e do not hire, then fire, and then rehire anyone. Any employee who is fired is fired for cause.

Groves said temporary workers go on "inactive" status when work is complete, and might be reactivated if more work comes up. But, "[a]t no time do we count a reactivation from non-working status as a ‘rehire.’ "

More to the point, the jobs figures that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports each month are not based on any count of "new jobs" or new hires. Rather, the BLS gets payroll figures on how many persons are actually being paid at the time of its monthly survey. What reporters and economists commonly refer to as job growth or job losses reflect the net change from month to month, not any tally of those hired or fired (or retired or deceased, for that matter). Anyone who had been hired, fired and re-hired would still be reported just once, no matter how many times they may have been on or off the payroll before the reporting period.

For a full explanation of how jobs figures (technically, "total nonfarm employment") are gathered, see the "Frequently Asked Questions" page that BLS has provided to explain its National Current Employment Survey.