Jobs Report Could Be Delayed If Federal Government Shuts Down

WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

The latest report on job creation and the unemployment rate, set to be released Friday, could be delayed when the federal government shuts down, the Labor Department said.

“All survey and other program operations will cease and the public website will not be updated,” Erica L. Groshen, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said in a Sept. 10 memo that is part of the department’s contingency plan for a shutdown.

But Groshen said timing is important in determining whether economic data would be released during a shutdown, which would begin Tuesday if Congress and the White House cannot strike a last-minute spending deal.

During the last federal government shutdown, in 1995, Labor Department analysts already had prepared the estimates for the monthly Consumer Price Index report when agency funding ran out.

Fearing that the important inflation data could leak out, the Office of Management and Budget authorized its release and allowed for a small number of employees to stay on the job to finish the report.

It was unclear Monday if the September jobs report, the government’s most important economic data release each month, would receive such an exemption.

A Labor Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Keith Hall, a former Bureau of Labor Statistics commissioner, said the report should be released, as scheduled, on Friday.

“Nothing’s as important as the unemployment rate in terms of its immediate impact on the economy and financial markets,” said Hall, who headed the agency from 2008 to 2012. “They’re inviting a problem if they don’t release it, that it’s going to leak out.”

The monthly jobs report is closely followed by financial markets, particularly as the economy tries to recover from the Great Recession. Federal Reserve policymakers also are eager for the data, as they try to determine if the labor market is strong enough to start reducing a key central bank stimulus program as early as October.

Economists project Friday’s report will show the economy added 184,000 net new jobs in September, up from 169,000 the previous month, and the unemployment rate held steady at 7.3 percent.

The jobs report has two components.

A survey of households determines the unemployment rate and normally is finished by the end of Monday of the week the report is scheduled for release, said Hall, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

The second part, a survey of businesses that determines the job-creation figure, is finished by Wednesday.

In the event of a shutdown, a small staff could get the work done and allow for the release of the jobs report as scheduled on Friday, Hall said.

“I think they really ought to go ahead and finish up that whole release and put it out, even if it takes a couple of extra days” after a shutdown, he said.

Another Labor Department memo, dated Friday, said that the agency would continue to release the weekly report on initial jobless claims.

Eric Seleznow, the acting assistant secretary for Employment and Training, said that because a shutdown would not cause a lapse in payments for unemployment benefits, the Labor Department division that handles the program would need to continue providing services, such as ensuring transfers of money to states.