Same-sex couples will make history in Friday's jobs report

Posted February 6, 2020 3:17 p.m. EST

— When the government releases its monthly jobs report on Friday, a history-making methodology change will be lurking in the footnotes.

For the first time ever, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will include same-sex couples in its count of married workers in the US economy.

Previously, categories tracking marital status only included people in heterosexual marriages.

That methodology change, which will be indicated in footnotes on Tables A-9 and A-10, marks an incremental milestone for the LGBTQ community, which has pushed to be recognized in official government statistics.

The change will not impact the top-line jobs report numbers but rather only a few categories in the underlying statistical tables. Economists expect the report to show US employers added 160,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained at 3.5% in January.

Still, the new method is indicative of a bigger change underway at the government's statistical agencies. This year, the 2020 Census will change its questionnaire to include "same-sex husband/wife/spouse" and "same-sex unmarried partner." The same "married" and "unmarried" options will exist for opposite-sex couples with the hope that more specific categories will decrease the room for error when people accidentally tick the wrong box.

During the 2010 Census, when same-sex marriage wasn't yet legalized federally, the questionnaire didn't make a distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage across the United States in June 2015. Previously, the Census Bureau had used other methods to try to estimate the numbers of same-sex couples who lived together, but research shows that those methods could result in a large number of misclassified households.

Since 2015, the number of same-sex marriages has climbed. The Census Bureau counteding 543,000 same-sex marriage households in 2019.

The methodology changes are a big step forward for the LGBTQ community in part because government statistics inform policymakers' decisions and actions.

"We're very excited about the new data from the BLS and the Census," said Meghan Maury, policy director at the National LGBTQ Taks Force. Maury has also served on a Census advisory committee since 2014, advocating for more data on the LGBTQ community. That data can help LGBTQ people build political power and get access to more services, she added.

"We know that LGBTQ folks are more likely to be living in poverty," she said, adding that's why including the community in labor market data is so important.

Still, much work remains to be done, Maury said.

Even though the inclusion of same-sex married couples is a meaningful change in the government's monthly jobs reports, they won't get their own category. They'll be lumped in with heterosexual couples in the same category tracking workers by marital status. The jobs reports will not separately break out unemployment rates and other labor market statistics for LGBTQ people.

"We're still missing so much of that community," Maury said. "The real next step is to collect data on gender and sexual orientation in all surveys."

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