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Government will count furloughed workers as fully employed in jobs report

January 24, 2019

The Labor Department said it will count federal employees who are currently furloughed as employed in its upcoming U.S. jobs report.

The partial federal shutdown - in its 33rd day - has affected some 800,000 federal workers. Some economists have fretted that the furloughed workers would not be counted in Labor Department’s survey of payroll employment, potentially ending the nation’s streak of 99 consecutive months of job growth.

The Labor Department said in an update on the website of its statistical agency that “federal government employees who are working, but who will not be paid until funding is available, are included in employment counts.”

The employment report is a key measure of the growth of the economy. The next report, which will disclose the number Americans employed for the month of January, is scheduled to be released on Feb. 1. “Because these employees will receive pay for the reference period, they will be counted as employed,” BLS explained.

Earlier this month, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed legislation that requires federal employees who are furloughed or required to work without pay since the government’s partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 to compensated for the period of the lapse.

The Labor Department, however, said it would not include federal contractors affected by the shutdown in its employment counts. Unlike furloughed government workers, an unknown number of federal contractors whose jobs are not being funded have no guarantee they will be paid retroactively.

Many contractors in the Houston region work for small businesses that survive on contracts with NASA. Many of these businesses are not getting paid by the space agency due to the shutdown. In turn, they are struggling to keep up with their bills and payrolls.

There are 204,000 federal workers in Texas and of those, 30,000 work in Greater Houston. An unknown number - estimated statewide in the tens of thousands - of those federal workers are furloughed or working without pay.

The Labor Department reported earlier this month that U.S. employers added 312,000 jobs in December, greatly exceeding analyst’s expectations. The nation added 2.6 million jobs in 2018, the most since the 2.7 million gained in 2015.

john.roper@chron.com

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