By Julia Wolfe, Economic Policy Institute
One of the many things we rely on the federal government for is timely, accurate, independent, and publicly available data that is used by households, businesses, and policymakers to make informed economic decisions. Of the many negative effects of the government shutdown, there have been some “data casualties,” including the release of Current Population Survey (CPS) public microdata files. These files are the source data for monthly reports on the unemployment and labor force participation rates, key timely barometers of the nation’s economic health. This microdata also forms the basis of much of the research that EPI and other research organizations and academics conduct. EPI urges the president to end the government shutdown so that federal employees and contractors can receive their paychecks again, researchers at EPI and elsewhere can continue to provide current economic analysis, businesses and households can make economic plans with fuller information, and the new Congress can make well-researched policy choices.
The Current Population Survey (aka the Household Survey), which is used to measure the nation’s unemployment rate (along with many other measures of labor market health), is collected and analyzed through a partnership between the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Census Bureau. Every month, a few weeks after BLS releases the monthly jobs report with CPS-derived estimates of unemployment and labor force participation, Census releases a version of the CPS microdata for public use. These public-use extracts allow for analysis beyond what’s available in tables published by BLS. For example, the jobs report includes an enormous amount of information on employment status by race/ethnicity, gender, age, education, and a variety of other demographic characteristics. However, to look at how the employment status of young people with a high school degree differs by race, you need to use the CPS microdata to run your own analysis. The CPS microdata is also a key source for assessing trends in wage growth for workers at different points in the wage distribution—an assessment we make annually at EPI and which will be delayed by this weeks’ announcement.
The release of the public CPS microdata for December, which was scheduled for last week, is being delayed because of the government shutdown. Although BLS is funded and will continue to collect and analyze the CPS for the release of January’s jobs report, Census did not release the microdata due to the furlough.
To continue providing analysis regarding pressing policy issues and economic trends, people need up-to-date data and a highly-skilled and professional staff of government researchers. The cycle of federal government shutdowns in recent years has made work in the Federal government less secure and attractive, and this will surely erode the long-run competitiveness of the Federal government in hiring highly-skilled and committed researchers. The research and data collection done at federal statistical agencies like the BLS, Census, and BEA (among many others) is world class. It would be a shame to sacrifice a hard-won legacy of credibility and professionalism in these agencies to nonsensical policy demands that are holding federal funding hostage today.