The U.S. government has been partially shut down for less than a week, but already the closure is blocking access to critical government data, including information that would have shed light on the housing market.
Visitors to the U.S. Census Bureau’s website this week have been greeted with a large banner announcing that “due to a lapse in federal funding this website is not being updated.” The site consequently has no new press releases, data, or other significant new documents. The last major announcement on the site is from Dec. 19.
The shutdown and lack of updates means that residential sales data, which had been scheduled for release this week, is not currently available. The data is usually published near the end of each month and provides a useful glimpse into the health of the industry. Data released last month and describing October, for example, showed that sales were down compared to both September and to the same period in 2017 — key points that support the widespread view that the housing market is slowing down.
Now, thanks to the shutdown, it’s impossible to say exactly how the most recent numbers might stack up.
The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which this week also has a banner announcing that it is “closed” due to the shutdown.
Though it remains unclear how long the current shutdown will last, a prolonged closure could block access to other housing-related data as well. The Census Bureau is scheduled to release information on construction spending on Jan. 3, for example, with data specific to residential construction queued up for Jan. 17.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis also falls under the Commerce Department, also is shutdown, and also has economic data scheduled to go public in the coming weeks, including data on personal income and gross domestic product (GDP).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which produces an array of economic data, is also among the agencies shutdown and not currently providing updates.
The shutdown began after funding for some federal agencies and programs expired on Dec. 21. President Trump has vowed that the shutdown will continue until lawmakers pony up funds for a border wall. In the meantime, the stock market has seesawed wildly, sinking on Christmas Eve, recovering on Dec. 26, then falling and rising again a day later.
The shutdown has not, however, entirely crippled the U.S. or economists’ access to data. Joe Brusuelas, an economist with the consulting firm RSM, pointed out that only about a quarter of the government is closed and that the U.S. Department of Labor has funding to operate until next fall. That means labor and employment data will still become available on schedule.
“This is a little bit more political theatrics than anything else,” Brusuelas told Inman.
Still, Brusuelas said that the shutdown could impact consumer confidence if it drags on, and explained that a slowing global economy and volatile stock market makes this shutdown different from those in the past.
“It does denote a level of risk that wasn’t there during the Obama-GOP government shutdowns,” he added.