Keeping labour data flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic

Blog by ILO: “The availability of data tends to be taken for granted by the vast majority of people. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates this vividly: estimates of case numbers and deaths have been widely quoted throughout and assumed by most to be available on demand.

However, those responsible for compiling official statistics know all too well that, even at the best of times, providing high-quality data to meet even just a small part of user needs is incredibly challenging and, on the whole, very resource-intensive. That said, the world has, in general, been steadily moving in the right direction, with more and better data being produced over time.

At the end of 2019, most users and producers of statistics would have predicted, with good reason, that the trend of increasing data availability would continue in the new decade, not least in the field of labour statistics. What no one could foresee then is that one of the cornerstones of data collection for surveys, namely the ability to visit and interview respondents, could be undermined so rapidly and drastically as was the case in 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Various organizations and specialized agencies in the United Nations system, including the ILO and collectively through the Intersecretariat Working Group on Household Surveys, have sought to track the impact of COVID-19 on data collection. In March 2021, the ILO launched a global survey to understand better the extent to which the crisis had affected the compilation of official labour market statistics. Information was received from 110 countries, of which 97 had planned to complete a labour force survey (LFS) in 2020. The findings point to both the tremendous challenges faced and the remarkable efforts undertaken to provide information on the world of work during the pandemic.

Nearly half of countries had to suspend interviewing at some point in 2020

Close to half (46.4 per cent) of the countries with plans to conduct a LFS in 2020 had to suspend interviews at some point in the year.The highest levels of suspensions were reported by countries in Africa and the Arab States (70.6 per cent) and in the Americas (66.7 per cent). While some countries were able to attempt to recover those interviews later on, the majority were not, which means they completely lost data that had been expected to be available, creating a risk of gaps in data series for key labour market indicators, among others…(More)”