Thanks to a partial government shutdown, the Labor Department is not releasing the September jobs report originally scheduled for Friday, leaving Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, and journalists without fresh information on whether the job market is still continuing its long, tepid slog out of recession-era lows.
But information from other government agencies, economists, and private firms provides some insight: Yes. Yes, the slog continues. There is no shortage of data out there to give some clues about what the job report would have shown this month. Data from some of the highest-profile alternative sources of job information indicate that job creation continued and may have even accelerated last month...but only slightly. Below is a rundown of what we do know about September's job market.
Consensus Views: First off are economists' consensus views on what the jobs report was going to say. According to Bloomberg's estimates, analysts there thought payrolls would show 184,000 new jobs in September, a moderate rise from August's 169,000.
The people behind these estimates can come remarkably close – Bloomberg's consensus estimate was off by only 6,000 on August's figure. But swings can be much wider – consensus views were at 195,000 in June, compared to the 172,000 that the BLS's revised figures for that month show. Still, analysts clearly see September being a modest improvement.
Verdict: Slight improvement
Jobless Claims: The government released new unemployment insurance claims figures on Thursday, and the latest estimate showed that jobless claims held steady last week, jumping by only 1,000 to 308,000.
Though the figure did not improve last week, jobless claims have come down considerably since August, when they hung between 320,00 and 340,000. In September, they stayed between 294,000 and 310,000.
Of course, jobless claims figures are noisy, meaning that they tend to jump around a lot, but that kind of sustained improvement suggests things got better last month.
ADP: The payroll processing firm releases its monthly job estimate days before the government's jobs report, a tactic that helps it get widespread attention as Wall Street and the media wait impatiently for the government's figures. This month, ADP predicted there would be 166,000 new private-sector jobs in September, a slight bump from the government's private-sector count of 152,000 in August and ADP's 159,000.
Though ADP's figures tend to track closely with government figures over time, they have been known to be off at times, sometimes wildly so. And many have pointed out that the report simply extrapolates from old data instead of incorporating new information. As University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers – a perennial ADP naysayer – tweeted on Thursday, "If you believe that the ADP report is a substitute for the payrolls report, you deserve to be deeply misled."
Verdict: Slight improvement (if you're not a naysayer)
Challenger, Gray & Christmas: The outplacement firm reported this week that employers planned to cut around 40,300 workers in September, a 20-percent drop from August's six-month high of nearly 50,500. That's a definite improvement, though it's important to remember that the numbers only show employers' plans to fire, not hire, meaning they don't tell the full story. Still, it's a sizable month-to-month change.
Gallup: The polling firm says that September's seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 7.9 percent. If the government's September unemployment rate came in at 7.9 percent, economists and investors would go into a blind panic – the Labor Department's jobless rate was at 7.3 percent in August 2013 and shows no signs of jumping 0.6 points.
But Gallup's September estimate is also down from the 8.6 percent the firm counted in August, meaning that it's possible the government's estimate would fall as well. Then again, like jobless claims data, Gallup's unemployment figure jumps widely from month to month, making any single month-to-month change that much more meaningless.
Verdict: Improvement. Probably. Maybe.
Taken together, those various and sundry indicators tend to show that September's jobs report – whenever we get it – will show some improvement. That's good news, but a slight uptick in hiring would also likely show more broadly that the job market isn't changing that much at all, says one economist.
"My expectation for the jobs report would have been somewhere between probably 170 thousand [and] 180 thousand, more or less in line with what we have seen in recent months," says Adolfo Laurenti, deputy chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago. "Not enough to suggest any real acceleration in the economy."
Average monthly payroll growth in 2012 was at 183,000, and thus far in 2013 it's slightly lower, at 180,000, according to Labor Department data. That means slight upward tweaks to the monthly payrolls figure are not much to cheer about, unless we get them consistently...something that hasn't happened for a long time.