The Impact of Strikes on US Jobs Reports
This year has seen a significant number of strikes taking place across the United States, with more than 450,000 workers participating in 312 strikes, according to Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker. However, one might wonder if these striking workers are missing from the US government’s monthly jobs reports.
The jobs report, produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is based on two different surveys. The first survey asks a sample group of employers to report the number of workers employed based on their payroll records during the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. This data is then used to determine the number of people hired or laid off in a given month.
Cody Parkinson, an economist at the BLS, explained that if striking workers earned pay for any part of the reference period, even just one hour, they are counted as employed. However, striking workers are subtracted from the employment level in the initial monthly estimate if they are not working during the reference pay period. They are only added back when they return to work.
For example, in the September jobs report, members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) who were on strike are counted as employed since the strike began during the reference week. However, if the strike continues through the end of the following week, they will not be counted as employed in the October jobs report unless they are on the payroll of a different employer.
On the other hand, the impact of strikes such as the SAG-AFTRA strike, which began in July, showed up in some of the data included in the September jobs report. The BLS noted that employment in the motion picture and sound recording industries continued to trend down, reflecting the impact of labor disputes.
The Writers Guild of America strike, which recently ended, also had an impact, although it was not as easily reflected in the data. Many of the union members involved in this strike were contract workers or freelancers. Therefore, the impact of the strike cannot be seen by focusing solely on industry hiring data that comes from payroll records.
However, the BLS also conducts another survey to construct the monthly jobs report. This survey asks individuals if they worked in a given week, and the data collected is used to calculate the unemployment rate. Since this survey captures almost all types of working arrangements, striking contractors and freelancers would impact the data.
According to the BLS, someone is classified as unemployed if they were not working but were available for work and actively looked for work in the prior four weeks. Therefore, striking union members who are not actively seeking work would not be considered part of the labor force.
It’s important to note that striking workers who earned money working in a different capacity during the reference period, such as driving for Uber, would be counted as employed. Additionally, workers who were on strike for the entire reference period and did not have a job would be counted as employed but not at work due to a labor dispute.
Overall, the impact of strikes on the US government’s monthly jobs reports can be complex and varies depending on the specific circumstances of each strike. While some strikes may directly affect industry employment data, others may only be indirectly reflected in the unemployment rate. Nevertheless, it is crucial to consider the broader context and various data sources when interpreting the impact of strikes on the labor market.