The United States’ nearly seven-year streak of job growth came to an end in September, as employers cut 33,000 jobs. But don’t read too much into that decline — Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which ravaged Texas and Florida, wreaked havoc on employment.
How do we know that the storms played a role? Workers said so themselves. The monthly jobs report is based in part on a survey of roughly 60,000 American households. One question on that survey asks whether people who normally have jobs were not at work because of bad weather. In a typical September, around 30,000 workers fall into that category; this year, that number was 1.5 million. Another nearly 3 million people reported working part-time because of the weather.
Teasing out the exact impact of the storms is tricky. The Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledged that the storms reduced total employment but didn’t estimate the size of the effect. The government won’t release state-specific data for another two weeks, and even then it will be hard to distinguish weather-related effects from other forces. (The monthly jobs numbers do not cover Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria.)
Still, it is nearly certain that, had it not been for the hurricanes, job growth would have been positive for a record 84th consecutive month. Jonathan Wright, an economist affiliated with the Brookings Institution, estimated that Friday’s report would have shown a 67,000 increase in jobs had it not been for the effect of the hurricanes.
The storms did not affect all industries or workers equally.
Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.com, a job-search site, noted that September’s employment declines were concentrated in low-wage industries. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector, for example, which includes hotels, restaurants and other weather-dependent businesses, was cut by 111,000 jobs in September.
It was the first net loss of jobs in the industry since 2012, according to the government data. Low-wage, hourly workers in other industries may also have been disproportionately affected by the storm.
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