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Lack of Federal Economic Data Impacting Montana Economists

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Photo courtesy of Images_of_Money/Flickr

A political stalemate in Washington D.C. has led to the closure of some federal functions, one of which is the collection and publication of economic data. Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research Director Patrick Barkey said that even if the information is gathered later, much of it won’t be as useful.“Many of these data series are based on survey questions,” Barkey said. “It’s a lot more difficult to ask respondents to questions ‘How many did you employ last month,’ rather than ‘How many do you employ right now.’ It can be done, but it won’t be as accurate. It will be a problem that will have to be managed.”

Though some say the lack of this data causes no harm, Barkey said it not only impacts economists, but also policy makers in every state who use the data to make decisions.

“If you like driving your car with your windshield painted flat black, I suppose you could say there’s no harm,” Barkey said. “The car still rolls down the road, but you have no idea where you’re going. With respect to the policies of the federal reserve, the management of the economy, the assessment of the labor market for all of the resources that are put into supporting labor market… there’s no information.”

Barkey said the loss of data makes it very difficult to gauge whether the U.S. Is headed into or out of recession and that the shutdown has forced many economists to seek data from private firms in the interim.

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