Labor Department Operating at Just 20 Percent During Shutdown

Of the 16,304 people who would normally be working right now at Labor, only 2,954 are currently in effect

By Brentin Mock Oct 03, 2013

This morning, the Department of Labor issued the following message:

"Due to the lapse in funding, the Employment Situation release which provides data on employment during the month of September, compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, will not be issued as scheduled on Friday, October 4, 2013. An alternative release date has not been scheduled."

The reason for this is probably that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is working with only three staffers, down from its normal 2,409 employees, according to the department’s memo on the government shutdown.

Of the total 16,304 people who would normally be working right now at Labor, only 2,954 are currently in effect–less than 20 percent of its full capacity. The Office of Workers Compensation seems to be the only program under Labor working with a significant staff–1,328 out of the usual 1,606–with most of them collecting salary from sources other than congressional appropriations. The rest of Labor’s programs are largely depleted of staff right now. 

Here’s why this is a problem:OO

Last week, an Administrative Law Judge, an officer of the Labor Department, found Bank of America liable for intentionally discriminating against hiring hundreds of black workers, ordering the company to pay $2.2 million dollars to settle a case that had been open for decades. Good thing that was settled when it did–there are no judges working right now out of the 122 usually on the bench. Not one of the 726 staffers is currently working in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, the body that audited Bank of America and found the racial employment discrimination.  

Since 2008, that office has reviewed over 19,000 companies that operate with federal contracts, and won more than $45 million in financial remedies for 84,000 workers who were affected by discrimination. Those reviews are now on pause, thanks to the shutdown. 

Unemployment insurance will continue to be administered, and if the shutdown lasts longer than seven days Labor employees will become eligible for unemployment benefits themselves. While the unemployment numbers won’t be made available this week as scheduled, figures on weekly unemployment insurance claims will. Labor in fact reported today that new claims increased to 308,000 last week, up 1,000 from the previous week. 

And the Job Corps program, which offers GED, diploma and workforce training to young men and women of low-income backgrounds–and also those who’ve had trouble with the law–will continue to run. Of the 55,031 students enrolled in Job Corps in 2011, 51 percent were African American and 16.4 percent were Latino. The program runs from a separate pot of money, and so its staff and contractors are set at least through November. But there have been problems with Job Corps funding as the Inspector General recently found.

With unemployment among black and Latino youth so high–not to mention with African Americans in general–it’s important that the Labor Department operates at full capacity to help get people paid.