Census Bureau furloughs keeps economic future uncertain

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Add another way the government shutdown is harming ordinary Americans — the Consumer Price Index report on cost-of-living increases will be on hold until the Congressional standoff ends.   

Millions of citizens will be in the dark about their financial future, including everything from businesses looking to open new locations to people with wages tied to the Index, reports Jeff Kunerth of the Orlando Sentinel.

The cost-of-living reports, a key indicator used for adjustments to Social Security and veterans’ benefits, will not come out as expected due to Census Bureau employees furloughed in the prolonged federal shutdown.

Closed in the budgetary stalemate are the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Labor Statistics and the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. Without the Census Bureau, there are no labor, unemployment or inflation reports. Housing starts and consumer spending reviews are also on hold until further notice.

Businesses use government predictions to make hiring decisions — things like whether to hire or fire personnel — and the inability to make these decisions ultimately costs jobs.  

“You are trying to assess the health of the patient without the various test results, and EKG readouts,” Sean Snaith told the Sentinel. Snaith is director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida.

“Data provides some certainty in a very uncertain environment,” he added.

States also rely on Census figures on population growth or decline, to predict the number of residents eligible for Medicare and other services. Florida conducts population counts on its own, but officials also depend on Census figures.

“Without those data, we couldn’t do that analysis,” Stan Smith, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida also told reporters. “There are thousands and thousands of examples of these types of analysis that people would have done, but now have to delay or drop the idea completely.”

The longer this budgetary impasse lasts, said Phil Sparks, co-director of the Washington-based Census Project, the more difficult it will be to know exactly how much damage was caused by the shutdown. 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.