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Policy: Labor

Monthly jobs report becomes a casualty of the government shutdown

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Normally, the monthly jobs report -- the single most closely watched economic indicator -- would be released on the first Friday of the month.

Not when the government is shut down, however. The agency that issues the jobs report, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, announced earlier in the week that it would not be collecting data or issuing reports during the government shutdown.

And on Thursday the Labor Department confirmed that the jobs report would be one of the casualties of Congress’ inability to reach a deal on funding the government.

The government already has missed two other reports: one on construction on Tuesday, and another on factory orders on Thursday.

That means that officials and investors are flying blind, without the latest information about the state of the economy.

“What are we going to write about? Should we temporarily change our name to Low Frequency Economics?” asked High Frequency Economics’ Jim O’Sullivan in a research note bemoaning Friday's missing report.

However, there are a few other economic reports put together by private companies or the Federal Reserve system that can provide some alternative information on the state of the economy for as long as the government remains dormant.

One source of economic data is from the human resources company ADP, which on Wednesday reported that 166,000 private-sector jobs were created in September.

Deustche Bank economist Joseph LaVorgna wrote that the ADP report, combined with data on employee tax withholding revenues, suggests a “similarly sized increase” in BLS jobs numbers, whenever they are released. The consensus forecast for the BLS number was 184,000 new private-sector and government jobs.

One government report that was released despite the shutdown was the Department of Labor’s weekly jobless claims report. The report, which tallies the number of workers filing for unemployment insurance benefits, is mostly administered by the states rather than the federal government, so it was able to out on schedule Thursday morning. It showed claims rising slightly from 305,000 to 308,000, near the lowest level of the recovery.

Along with other private-sector indicators, O’Sullivan wrote, the jobless claims numbers shows that “momentum in the labor market as well as overall growth has been picking up.”

Aside from alternative sources of data, there are also projections that can help give a sense of labor developments. Published by the Brookings Institution, the Barnichon-Nekarda model of the unemployment rate, based on labor force flows, projects that the unemployment rate would have fallen from 7.3 percent to 7.2 percent if the jobs report were released.

Of course, projections and alternative measures are no substitute for hard data. Some analysts aren’t missing the data — economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the right-leaning American Action Forum wrote in a morning note that “had the report been delivered it would have been more of the same,” predicting another mediocre gain of 170,000. But until the BLS is back up and running and puts out the jobs report, such estimates are what the country has to go on.

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