Snow didn't skew the unemployment rate. But the census will.

The snowstorms in the East didn't skew the February jobs report. But the hiring of more than 500,000 census workers this spring will trim the unemployment rate and boost spending temporarily.

Frances M. Roberts/Newscom/File
A census worker pounded the pavement of New York's Chelsea neighborhood in February. This spring, the hiring of temporary census workers could boost employment rolls by more than 500,000 and trim the unemployment rate a little.

In the end, major snow storms in the East didn't have much impact on the February jobs report.

The unemployment rate in February was 9.7 percent, unchanged from January, according to the Department of Labor's unemployment report. The number of job losses was 36,000, not much different from January's revised loss of 26,000.

But that could change in April and May, when the surge of hiring for the 2010 census could boost payrolls by half a million or more. The census could trim the unemployment rate by a few tenths of a percentage point and boost the nation's gross domestic product by 0.2 percentage points in the second quarter, according to a report last month (.pdf) by the Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration.

But what the census brings, the census taketh away.

The job surge will begin to wind down in June, dampening the spending boost. By the latter half of the year, the census will act as a drag on economic growth, the report estimates.

"This is the government's version of the Olympics," says Richard Gold, senior director of research and investment strategy for international property group Grosvenor Americas. The census will generate a frenzy of economic activity – a $17 billion bump in payroll – over a short period of time.

But it's "a transitory, one-time event," he adds. The long-term effect will add little more than 0.1 percentage point to US personal income. "The best news about this is that the impact will be spread across the country," Mr. Gold says.

The hiring of census workers this spring will make unemployment look better, but the effect won't last.

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