Unless you’re looking for jobs that involve snow removal, you may have noticed a lack of job openings in some industries.
That comes as no surprise, however, to employment analysts, who say the first quarter is generally slow for many businesses.
“Seasons can very much affect employment rates,” said Joe Frank, communications director for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. “So much so, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally adjusts unemployment statistics on the state and national level to better track trends.”
John Gibson, director of Graduate and Undergraduate Programs at the Indiana University Northwest School of Business and Economics, said this technique eliminates the influences of weather, holidays, school closings and other recurring seasonal events from economic time series.
“By eliminating seasonal fluctuations, the data series becomes smoother and it is easier to compare data from month to month,” Gibson said.
For example, construction slows in weather similar to what this region has experienced this winter, so labor experts try to account for this in models, he said.
“Of course, this weather is good for some – snow removal, auto body shops, businesses that sell snow throwers and shovels,” Gibson said. “They may actually hire workers given the huge demand for some things right now.”
The National Federation of Independent Business’ Research Foundation has been tracking small business economic trends for decades. Barbara Quandt, Indiana State director of the organization, said when the organization’s next monthly Small Business Economic Trends report comes out, she will have a better idea of how small business has been affected by this year’s winter weather.
“This index has seen record lows in the past few years and has only recently begun to see some slight improvement,” she said. “I can only surmise that a very challenging winter cannot be good for small business optimism, and optimistic small business owners is what we need to have job creation in this country.”
With more than 50 inches of snow reported this winter so far in the Chicago metro area, Quandt said she is concerned how this winter has affected business owners’ economic outlook.
“This is a serious concern,” she said. “Small business owners are the most optimistic people on the planet. They are the risk takers that create two thirds of the net new jobs.”
Small business owners are the entrepreneurs who put everything on the line – max out their credit cards and mortgage their homes – to live their dreams, she said.
“So if small business owners aren’t optimistic, what happens to the economy and job creation?” Quandt said.
Although the U.S. Department of Labor seasonally adjusts unemployment statistics on the state and national level to better track trends and rule out seasonal factors, Frank said local level data, such as county and city unemployment rates, cannot be seasonally adjusted.
“Or the sample sizes would be too small because seasonally adjusted data literally takes out of the sample people who have seasonally affected jobs,” he said.
Dr. Micah Pollak, an assistant professor of Economics at IUN, added that while the general perception is that severe weather like this slows down the economy, it may not be as bad as it might appear driving around the area.
“The weather stimulates some areas,” he said. “For example, city snow plow drivers are probably getting significant overtime pay, and households spend more money on energy and heating.”
He also said other areas experience changes when sales are made, rather than the amount of sales.
“For example, grocery stores get cleared out before bad weather hits, which can offset less sales during the bad weather,” Pollak said.
A drop in productivity – which could halt more hires – also may not decrease as much in some industries, such as those that can allow the option of telecommuting.
“Of course some industries will be affected, such as the local casinos are likely to have less business due to the weather,” he said.
For Joseph Grossbauer, president of GGNet Technologies in Chesterton, weather plays virtually no role in hiring or staffing because his company is technology based and employees can work remotely from home.
"What really impacts our business, weather-wise, is getting to clients in Chicago," he said. "Lake effect snow and the perception that we will be stuck here and can't get to Chicago has impacted expanding our client base."