The Labor Department's jobs report that wasn't

Applicants wait to meet potential employers at the Diversity Job Fair on December 6, 2012 in Manhattan, New York City.

It’s the first Friday of the month, the day we typically get the Department of Labor’s monthly jobs report. This one would be for September 2013.

Economists have been expecting a ‘steady-as-she-goes’ performance from the economy: 180,000 new jobs and unemployment holding steady at 7.3 percent. That compares to 169,000 new jobs and unemployment at 7.3 percent in August.

But today there was no jobs report; also, no revisions to previous reports. Most employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which crunches the numbers and provides technical support after they are released, are on furlough as part of the partial government shutdown. So the monthly jobs report joined a growing list of economic statistics that are neither being released, nor (in some cases) gathered in their raw form, by government agencies including the Department of Labor and the Commerce Department.

Economist Justin Wolfers of the University of Michigan and the Brookings Institution found a way to provide commentary on the jobs report anyway— in a stream of made-up tweets about the non-existent jobs report.

"The economy today looks an awful lot like the economy yesterday," Wolfers says. "No individual number can fundamentally change the story."

Wolfers said the job market is growing steadily, but painfully slowly, right now.

"It’s a recovery that’s persisting, but we wish it were quicker," said Wolfers. "The unemployment rate remains far too high. Hourly wages are barely moving. There are no inflation pressures at all out there, and workers don’t have any bargaining power."

Wolfers said September’s jobs data was already collected before the shutdown—raw numbers from the household and establishment surveys. He says eventually that data will be collated and issued, once the government shutdown ends. And September was almost certainly a lot like August and July.

But Wolfers said that occasionally, the economy takes a sharp turn. Then, economists and policymakers need up-to-date, reliable, comprehensive data to identify possible causes, and to shape policy responses. That type of sharp diversion from recent past performance may be happening now — with the pile-on effects of the ongoing government-spending sequester, the current government shutdown, and the looming possibility of a debt-ceiling-limit-breach and U.S. government default within the month.

"The problem is, if the government shutdown goes on, there’ll be no data collected," Wolfers said. "We’ll have no idea how the labor market’s performing in October. We’ll have no idea of the effects of the budget battles on the economy. It’s kind of ironic: the main effect of the government shutdown is going to be to make sure there’s not enough data to figure out what the main effects of the government shutdown are."

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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