Marketplace

BLS will replace COVID survey questions with telecommuting questions

We learned last week that in August the national unemployment rate hit 3.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The BLS arrives at this number by surveying households to ask who is working, who is unemployed, and who is looking for work. It turns out that in August, people left the sidelines to return to the labor market, and those who did not find jobs are now considered unemployed.

At the end of its August report, the BLS announced that its next report will mark the end of an era: September will be the last month it will ask additional questions about COVID to assess the impact it has had. in the labor market.

The BLS asked people if COVID affected their working hours or prevented them from looking for work. The bureau began asking these questions in May 2020, according to BLS economist Rachel Krantz-Kent.

“Businesses were closing, people were being told to stay home, to social distance, and so we were really interested in measuring, you know, the impact of those measures on the workforce,” he said. she declared.

Krantz-Kent said those questions are becoming obsolete, so the BLS will start asking new ones, with a focus on telecommuting: How many people are working from home altogether? For how many hours?

The BLS tries to understand some fundamental shifts in the labor market, according to Megan Greene, chief economist at the Kroll Institute.

“My work, for example, is largely remote, and that would never have been possible before the pandemic.”

The data will also help economists understand how telecommuting affects different occupations and demographic groups.

University of Kansas professor Misty Heggeness has researched the pressures moms face when working from home.

With this new data, Heggeness said, “we will be able to find out, did this person actually telework? Yes or no? And then what do we see in the trends for people who telecommute versus those who don’t – both in terms of the ability of mothers to remain attached to the workforce, the participation of women in the workforce , etc. »

The BLS will begin asking the new questions in October.

There’s a lot going on in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is there for you.

You rely on Marketplace to break down world events and tell you how it affects you in a factual and accessible way. We count on your financial support to continue to make this possible.

Your donation today fuels the independent journalism you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help maintain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.