What is the U.S. Census Bureau smoking?

According to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, 3Q09 revenue in the U.S. employment services industry was down 7% from 3Q08, not bad at all given the recession.

Really?  Down just 7%?  That seems doubtful.

The "employment services industry" includes employment placement agencies, temporary help services and employee leasing.  A few loose ends aside, that is pretty much what we call "staffing."

However, the 29 public staffing firms we track reported a median 3Q09 versus 3Q08 decline of 27% in revenue--a far cry from 7%.  Likewise, the American Staffing Association estimates temporary and contract staffing sales, which make up well more than half of total staffing, to be down 26%.  Likewise, our Staffing Industry Monthly Pulse Survey, a survey of roughly 200 staffing firms, has been indicating an industry decline in the range of 25%. 

Staffing Industry Analysts' December forecast update projects total staffing industry revenue to decline 26% for full year 2009 versus 2008.

No doubt there is an explanation, perhaps definitional differences with regard to revenue (gross versus net) within sub-sectors, small sample size, disproportionate sub-samples by sub-sector, who knows?

One thing that would help to reconcile this kind of discrepancy would be if the Census would start providing revenue data at a finer industry level, not just employment services in aggregate but separately--temporary help, employment placement, etc.  There is precedent, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics already reports employment trends at that sub-sector level.

Given the growing importance of temporary staffing in particular--not only as a major business sector but as an economic indicator--that information would be welcome to a good many people.  And then maybe we could understand how they got to that 7% number.


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