I’m not actually opposed to the idea of hiring more federal workers – especially if we are in the middle of a balance-sheet recession. Obviously the hiring that occurred for the Census has done a lot to help people out of work.
One nice thing about the Census is that it’s temporary and its workers aren’t in costly, entrenched public unions. If we do push a big hiring spree at the federal level or at the local level using federal dollars, then I think the only way to do it would be for similar jobs – temporary and non-unionized – rather than permanent and/or union jobs. Otherwise we run the risk of a truly unsustainable increase in the number of government employees, leading once again to the sort of budget problems we’re facing now only much worse.
If temporary jobs can spark confidence again in the private sector, causing more and more of these workers to move into sustainable jobs outside the public sector, then it will be a success.
If this leads to a vastly expanded public workforce with even more unsustainable costs, then we’re just going to cement many of the problems we’re having at the state level at the federal level.
As Felix Salmon notes, this may very well be Obama’s Katrina. It makes sense for the president, then, to bolster hiring, though it remains to be seen what sort of jobs would actually be created. The trick is there just aren’t that many temporary, shovel-ready jobs out there in the modern American economy.