Decline in Shift Work Casts Shadow on Oct. 8 Jobs Report

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
October 6, 2021 Updated: October 6, 2021

High-frequency workforce activity data from payroll tracking firm Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG) shows that shift work in the United States declined for the second month in a row in September, casting a shadow over the closely watched government report due on Oct. 8 that will reveal how many jobs the U.S. economy created last month.

UKG’s workforce activity report, released Oct. 5, showed that September shift work slipped 0.1 percent. While a marked improvement over August’s drop of 2.4 percent, the contraction suggests further delays in the employment recovery and sets the stage for a potential downside miss in the Oct. 8 government jobs report, which last month came in well below expectations.

“By most predictions, September was supposed to bring a return of strong economic and workplace activity, as schools reopened fully and unemployment benefits expired. This simply wasn’t the case,” Dave Gilbertson, vice president of UKG, said in a statement.

Gilbertson said it’s likely that concerns about health amid the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 were a factor holding people back from rejoining the workforce.

The UKG report (pdf) showed that workforce activity in the retail sector fell 3.7 percent in September, a “concerning departure” from the growth typically experienced ahead of the holiday hiring season.

“As cases decline, we are feeling optimistic about future growth overall, but are closely watching the impact of supply chain disruptions in manufacturing and lackluster activity in the retail sector. With the ongoing labor shortage still in full force, retailers will need to offer more than just higher pay to entice people to staff stores as the holiday shopping season rapidly approaches,” he said.

A Now Hiring near the entrance to a Ross department store in Hallandale, Fla., on Sept. 21, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Last month’s government jobs report, released Sept. 3 by the Labor Department, showed that non-farm payroll employment rose by 235,000 in August, far below the FactSet-provided consensus forecast of 750,000.

UKG’s August workforce activity report—which showed a 2.4 percent contraction in shift work and was released before the Labor Department’s August non-farm payrolls data—suggested the government’s official jobs creation data would come in soft.

The much-anticipated employment report on Oct. 8 is expected to deliver better jobs creation or recovery figures for September compared to the disappointing August reading, though UKG’s soft September workforce activity figures temper optimism.

“The consensus is for a gain of nearly 500,000 jobs in the September snapshot, better than the 235,000 August jobs rise, but short of this year’s monthly average of 586,000,” Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick said in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.

While Hamrick noted that there are encouraging signs that the worst of the Delta surge may have passed, supply chain challenges remain and rising prices persist.

“Cargo ships unable to head to West Coast ports, a trucker shortage and lack of sufficient rail capacity are among the complicating factors all conspiring to boost product and component bottlenecks when retailers are very much focused on the holiday shopping season,” he said.

A separate jobs report from ADP Research Institute, done in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics and released Oct. 6, showed that U.S. private-sector employment rose by 568,000 jobs in September.

While, historically, the ADP figures haven’t tracked exactly with the Labor Department’s numbers, they have often served as a fair guide. In August, for example, ADP showed private-sector employment rose by 374,000, compared to the Labor Department’s 235,000.

Generally, labor market indicators were mixed in September. A survey from the Conference Board last week showed consumers’ views of current labor market conditions deteriorated and the number of people filing for unemployment rose for the past three weeks in a row and hit their highest level in over a month.

The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing employment gauge rebounded last month after contracting in August, but its measure of services industry employment slipped, with businesses reporting widespread labor shortages.

And while the U.S. economy remains around 5 million jobs down compared to before the pandemic, there are a record 10.9 million job openings and around 8.4 million unemployed.

“Beyond the horizon, further improvement in the economy and the job market are reasonable expectations over the coming year or so,” Hamrick said. “As with so many storylines with the pandemic, it seems there are always a few unexpected, or even unprecedented, plot twists.”

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'