Last Updated on October 7, 2023 by Robert C. Hoopes
Title: Strikes and their Impact on U.S. Jobs Report
Subtitle: Understanding the Effect of Strikes on Employment Data
According to the Labor Action Tracker at Cornell University, more than 450,000 workers across the United States have participated in a staggering 312 strikes this year alone. These strikes have raised concerns about their potential impact on the monthly jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The BLS generates its jobs report using two surveys, each providing different insights into the employment landscape. The first survey collects data from employers based on payroll records. However, this survey categorizes striking workers as employed as long as they receive any form of compensation during the reference period. In the September jobs report, for example, United Auto Workers members on strike were still considered employed. However, if the strike persists, their absence may not be reflected in the subsequent October report.
The employment data provided in the jobs report can offer a glimpse into the impact of strikes, such as the recent SAG-AFTRA strike that affected the motion picture and sound recording industries. The statistics may reveal a decline in job numbers during the period affected by the strike.
However, not all strikes leave a visible imprint on industry hiring data. The recent Writers Guild of America strike, for instance, may not be reflected accurately in the employment figures. Many members of this guild are contract workers or freelancers, making it difficult to detect the full repercussions of their strike through the available hiring data.
The second survey used to compose the jobs report involves questioning individuals about their work during a specific week and calculating the unemployment rate. Contractors and freelancers who participate in strikes can potentially affect the data collected through this survey.
To be classified as unemployed by the BLS, an individual should not have been working, actively searching for work, and available for employment during the previous four weeks. Workers on strike who manage to earn money through alternative means, such as driving for ride-hailing services like Uber, would be deemed employed.
Conversely, if workers have no other source of income and were on strike throughout the entire reference period, they would be categorized as employed but not present at work due to a labor dispute. Cody Parkinson, an economist at the BLS, reinforces this classification.
As labor strikes continue to make headlines across various industries, economists and labor experts are keen to examine the potential impact on employment statistics. While the BLS jobs report provides valuable insights into the labor market, it is essential to recognize the limitations in capturing the full extent of strikes and the subsequent employment dynamics.