Hurricanes Irma & Harvey Hurt the Job Market in September, But Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Panic

Hurricane Harvey Texas
Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Rex Shutterstock

The U.S. economy shed 33,000 jobs in September — marking the first time the labor market contracted since 2010, a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed today. (Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a gain of 90,000 jobs.)

BLS acting commissioner William Wiatrowski said the negative trends — seen mostly in food services and drinking places — were likely attributable to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey as opposed to long-term or more permanent factors.

What’s more, the Labor Department’s system for compiling the numbers may also have contributed to the seemingly dismal employment picture last month.

The BLS uses two surveys to compile the report. For the establishment survey, employees who are not paid for the pay period that includes the 12th of the month are not counted as employed. And since storms caused large-scale evacuations and severe damage to many homes and businesses, many employees in areas affected by the hurricanes were likely off payrolls during the reference pay period for September.

Employment is measured differently in the household survey; people with jobs are counted as employed even if they miss work for the entire survey reference week (the week including the 12th of the month), regardless of whether they are paid.

In September, 1.5 million workers had a job but were not at work for the entire reference week due to bad weather, the highest level for this series over the past 20 years.

Wiatrowski said data collection rates in both the establishment and household surveys generally were within normal ranges in September, both nationally and in the hurricane-affected states. (Employment in retail trade also showed little change over the month.)

Overall, the unemployment rate decreased by 0.2 percentage points to 4.2 percent in September, and the number of unemployed persons declined by 331,000 to 6.8 million. Both measures were down over the year.