Winter storms may mean more bad job news for women

This winter's snow storms kept many people away from their jobs (Source: Washington Post)
This winter’s snow storms kept many people away from their jobs (Source: Washington Post)

The Labor Department’s jobs report hasn’t exactly been a “girl’s best friend” this year. The first report showed that women gained 75,000 jobs, the next that they lost 24,000 jobs, and the third that they gained 99,000 jobs. This up-down pattern makes it hard to know whether Friday’s jobs report will be good for women.

Unfortunately, some signs point toward another dismal report.

Here’s one reason why: The weather.

The weather has been really awful this year. And March was a particularly snowy month. Winter Storm Vulcan dumped heavy snow from the Midwest through the Great Lakes as it roared across the country. That snow helped make this winter Chicago’s third snowiest ever and drove Detroit to the brink of breaking a 130-year-old snowfall record. Toledo, Ohio’s, 86 inches of snow was 51 inches more than it normally has by this time.

It’s hard to predict how these storms affected March’s employment data. What we do know, however, is that February’s snowstorms forced 6.9 million nonfarm workers who would normally have been working full time to work part time. As the White House reported, that was the second highest number of people unable to work full-time due to bad weather in the past two decades. The White House also noted that another 600,000 nonagricultural workers didn’t work for the whole week due to unseasonably bad weather during the time the Labor Department conducted its employment survey.

People working part-time due to bad weather (Source: Council of Economic Advisors, The White House)
People working part-time due to bad weather (Source: Council of Economic Advisors, The White House)

People who stay home because of bad weather aren’t considered unemployed for purposes of measuring the unemployment rate, so the fact that they weren’t working won’t affect the jobless rate.

“People often think that severe weather will hurt employment, but it rarely has a measurable impact,” says Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a former chief economist at the Labor Department. “Any person who is paid — even if just for one day — during the reference period, will be counted as on the payroll,” she added.

As Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, explained, “the seasonal adjustment factors already take bad weather into account, so the weather would have to be extremely bad across a wide swath of the country” for it to have a measurable impact on the employment data.

Where bad weather can have an impact is on hours worked and, thus, on pay.

Here’s where the bad weather may have an adverse impact on women.

Unusually severe weather reduces weekly hours for employees who can’t get to work and increases hours for those who have to get to work because of the weather.

Now, the question is, did the storms keep women away from their jobs?

Women tend to work in service occupations, such as food preparation and serving. They’re home health care aides, childcare workers, and cashiers, they’re maids and housekeepers, and they’re hand packers and packagers, as the National Women’s Law Center shows.

It’s plausible that people who can’t get to work are in jobs such as retail and food preparation, while people who have to get to work are likely to be working on repair and road maintenance, for example.

Here’s where Friday’s jobs report will provide insight into how the weather has affected women. If the retail, food preparation, and hospitality sectors were adversely affected by the weather, then women will bear the brunt of the storm’s impact on payroll employment. And, the jobs report will, once again, bring bad news for women.

Joann Weiner teaches economics at George Washington University. She has written for Bloomberg, Politics Daily, and Tax Analysts and worked as an economist at the U.S. Treasury Department. Follow her on Twitter @DCEcon.
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