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White House Warns Latest Jobs Data Will Be Ugly Due to Omicron

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(Bloomberg) — The White House is lowering expectations for this week’s U.S. jobs report, saying that brief absences of workers due to omicron could overstate the number of unemployed people for last month.

Several White House officials have teed up Friday’s report with warnings, saying that the week when surveys were taken for the January payroll numbers was the height of illness absences in the aftermath of the holidays.

Brian Deese, the director of President Joe Biden’s National Economic Council, said the numbers could be “confusing” as Covid illnesses are recorded as job losses.

“We expect that that will have an impact on the numbers,” Deese told MSNBC on Tuesday. “We never put too much weight on any individual month; this will particularly be true in this month, because of the likely effect of the short-term absences from omicron.”

Biden has repeatedly touted employment data as an indicator of a robust economic rebound, and highlighted the tumbling jobless rate to blunt criticisms about overheated inflation. Friday’s report may still show historically low unemployment, which is based on a separate survey from the one for payrolls and counts temporary, unpaid sick leave differently.

Preparing Ground

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki have also delivered warnings that the official January jobs gain may be poor.

If a worker was out “and did not receive paid leave, they are counted as having lost their job,” Psaki said Monday. Nearly 9 million people missed work due to illness in January, when the data were being collected, she said. 

“So we just wanted to kind of prepare, you know, people to understand how the data is taken,” she said. “As a result, the month’s jobs report may show job losses in large part because workers were out sick from omicron.”

Economists expect nonfarm payrolls to rise by 150,000 for January — the weakest reading since the end of 2020. The U.S. unemployment rate is seen remaining unchanged, at 3.9%, according to the median estimate of forecasts compiled by Bloomberg.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

White House Warns Latest Jobs Data Will Be Ugly Due to Omicron

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