September Jobs Report Expected To Be Delayed

Oct 3, 2013

Every month, investors turn to the jobs report to assess the state of the U.S. job market.

But due to the partial government shutdown that began on Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is not expected to meet its Friday deadline for the September jobs report.

NPR business reporter Jim Zarroli joins us to talk about what that could mean for investors.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, it's HERE AND NOW. I'm Robin Young.

And every month, investors turn to the monthly jobs report to assess the state of the U.S. job market, but the report for September has been postponed because of the government shutdown. The Labor Department made it official this morning, there will not be a jobs report on Friday.

So what will this mean for investors who rely on this and other economic indicators to make their decisions? NPR business reporter Jim Zarroli joins us. And, Jim, one thing we know this means is that the jobs report is not deemed an essential operation by the government.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Right, yeah. Evidently, not. I mean, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which puts up the report, part of the Labor Department, after Monday, I am told that it's down to just three people, all senior officials. Everyone else is gone. Everyone else is furloughed. So there's no one around to crunch the numbers, and nobody around to oversee the release on Friday.

YOUNG: But, Jim, we understood that the jobs data is already collected for the month of September. And this morning, a report on the weekly job list claims was released. So why can't the Labor Department just go ahead and release this information that we thought they'd collected anyway?

ZARROLI: You know, I've asked ask some people, some former BLS officials about that, and they say, yeah, it's true the raw data has been collected. In fact, they probably already know what the unemployment rate itself is. But that is only a part of the report. There's also the payroll survey of businesses and that's more problematic.

The BLS typically will go out and talk to a lot of businesses, but the numbers they get are sort of filled within anomalies. And you might have one business that's suddenly hiring people in big numbers in a way that might skew the final tally. So they like to go through them and look at a sample of the results. And then they're typically doing this, you know, they - right up to the day before the report comes out.

So if there's no one to do that, they can't release data. And also, the release of the data is done electronically now. That means you need a certain number of IT people to, you know, release and secure the data until the right time.

YOUNG: Sure. So what does this mean for both investors and the policymakers and the politicians who love to point to the weekly jobs numbers, especially if they go in the direction they want them to go in, you know? So there's a political aspect to this. But what does it mean for investors and policymakers who rely on this data?

ZARROLI: Well, they have fewer guide posts about the economy. They have fewer indications of what's happening with the overall economy. The unemployment numbers are - they almost always move the market. Sometimes they move them a lot. The fact that the numbers aren't coming out mean, you know, everyone is a bit more in the dark.

That's a problem for the Federal Reserve, for instance, which is trying to decide when it's going to pull the plug on its stimulus measures, you know, the bond, the $85-million - billion-a-month bond-buying program it has. And the strength of the jobs market is a part of how they go about deciding. You know, the Fed is still operating this because it has its own revenue stream. But without the jobs numbers, it's kind of got less information to go on.

YOUNG: And by the way, what happens now, going forward, if the shutdown continues? Do these numbers of furloughed workers - is that part of the job list? I mean, are things going to get skewed because of the shutdown?

ZARROLI: Well, that's a - that's an interesting question. I mean, if the shutdown goes on too long, you know, the question of releasing the September number is one thing. But after a week or so, they have to begin collecting the numbers for October. They have to begin going out and doing surveys. And the longer this goes on, that means they won't - the less raw data they have.

Now, if it goes on, you know, if the shutdown continues for just a while, they can probably collect enough data to put together a good report. But if it goes on too long, they just won't have anything to go on. And that's a real big hole in the, you know, in the numbers that we have, the overall numbers about the economy.

YOUNG: NPR business reporter Jim Zarroli, thank you so much.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

YOUNG: Well, as we keep saying, that shutdown keeps showing up. So up next, how to get to yes. Is it possible? We'll speak with someone who actually teaches that subject in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.