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With shutdown over, flow of government economic data to resume

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WASHINGTON -- The flow of federal economic data is set to resume next week, highlighted by the release of the delayed September jobs report, as federal employees are back at work following the end of the partial government shutdown.

But it could take months to return to normal as the 16-day shutdown prevented federal workers from collecting and analyzing economic information needed for future reports. The delays are causing problems for Federal Reserve policymakers and probably will force them to postpone a decision on reducing a key stimulus program until early next year.

The Labor Department said the report on September job creation and unemployment will be released at 8:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday, straying from the traditional Friday morning release of the important economic indicator.

The report had been scheduled for Oct. 4, but was postponed after the fiscal standoff forced about 800,000 federal workers to be furloughed on Oct. 1.

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The shutdown also will delay the collection of jobs data this month, leading the Labor Department to postpone the release of the next report by a week.

The October jobs report, scheduled for Nov. 1, now will be released on Nov. 8, the Labor Department said.

The delays are not unprecedented. The 1995-96 government shutdown led to a two-week delay in the release of the December 1995 jobs report.

Other Labor Department reports postponed by the recent shutdown will start appearing next week as well, including U.S. import and export price indexes on Wednesday and the job openings and labor turnover survey on Thursday.

The Commerce Department, which produces reports on gross domestic product, foreign trade and personal income among other economic statistics, also did not release data during the shutdown.

“Now that the government has reopened, we are working aggressively to identify when these key data sets can be released," a department spokeswoman said Friday. "We expect to release a revised economic indicator release calendar in the very near term.”

The delay in official government economic reports is hindering Federal Reserve policymakers, who have said they would depend on the data to decide when to start reducing a key stimulus program. The Fed is trying to gauge the strength of the economy as it tries to recover from the Great Recession.

"Only the data can tell us how much progress we’ve made, and they aren’t saying much right now," Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said in a Wisconsin speech Thursday.

"The data available in September were inconclusive, and since then, incoming information has been silenced with the federal government shutdown," said Evans, a voting member of the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee.

Evans said it was not time to start reducing the Fed's $85 billion in monthly bond purchases, which are designed to reduce long-term interest rates and stimulate spending.

The next FOMC meeting is Oct. 29-30, but many analysts don't see policymakers opting to taper the bond-buying program until early next year because of the Washington fiscal standoff.

In addition to choking off most economic data, the shutdown and the anxiety over whether the federal debt limit would be raised have hurt the recovery. Economists estimate that the episode, which was resolved Wednesday, will shave about 0.6 percentage points off of economic growth in the final three months of the year.

Also, the shutdown could skew economic reports for several months because of the loss of some data that would have been collected this month.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland said Thursday that it expected the shutdown to skew the consumer price index, a key gauge of inflation, for at least seven months.

Price variations depend on previous readings and the shutdown meant the loss of about half of October's data because government workers were not able to visit as many shops to collect information, the Cleveland Fed said.

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