The White House is trying to prepare Americans for a ‘strange’ jobs report [Video]

Ahead of Friday’s jobs report, the White House is lowering expectations about a number they say could be hard hit by both the Omicron variant and a quirk of how the data is gathered each month.

“We just wanted to prepare people to understand…what it is an assessment of and as a result, the month’s jobs report may show job losses in large part because workers were out sick from Omicron,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

Experts have warned of less than stellar news for weeks. On Jan. 20, Moody’s Analytics’ Adam Kamins joined Yahoo Finance and noted that some strong 2021 jobs numbers “don’t reflect Omicron yet.” The variant could be a setback for jobs in January and February, he added.

The White House is concerned that Friday’s report could be especially eye-popping because of how the jobs data is gathered. The “January” number being released on Friday is actually the result of a survey taken for a week around Jan. 12 — instead of an accounting of the entire month.

The reported COVID cases fueled by the Omicron variant peaked nationally right around then.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about jobs and the economy at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Biden speaks about jobs and the economy at the White House in 2021. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Jared Bernstein, a member of President Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, tweeted that this is “an important lens through which to view the Jan payroll data, one that doesn’t reflect the historically unique, underlying strength of the U.S. labor market.”

To make things even more complicated for the White House, if workers are out sick and don’t receive a paycheck for the week in question, they’re counted as having lost their job — even if they returned the following week.

The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey has already found 9 million people who reported being out of work in that timeframe either because they had COVID-19 or were caring for somebody who did. That compares to around 3 million people just two weeks prior.

‘An inaccurate depiction’

The U.S. economy added 199,000 jobs last month, less than expected, and less than the prior month. At the same time, the December unemployment rate improved to a fresh pandemic-era low.

Some economists estimate the January number to be similar, with private employers adding 150,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate staying at 3.9%, according to Bloomberg consensus estimates.

But a number of analysts expect a loss, perhaps even as high as 200,000-400,000 jobs in January.

Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese has discussed the possibility of a disappointing jobs report, which Bernstein also outlined it in a Twitter thread.

Psaki called the result we are likely to see Friday “an inaccurate depiction” of the overall labor market, while Deese tried to prepare Americans “for January employment data that could look a little strange.”

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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