On the first Friday morning of almost any other month, from the trading floors of Wall Street to the hushed hallways of the Federal Reserve, all the attention would be focused on two numbers: the latest government estimates for unemployment and job creation.
This Friday, much of the government will be closed. As a result, the economists and statisticians at the Bureau of Labor Statistics will be at home, and everyone from Ben S. Bernanke, the Fed’s chairman, to thousands of traders glued to their Bloomberg screens, will be left without one of the most important clues to the state of the economy.
The mystery is heightened by the question of just how much of an impact the shutdown itself will have. And while the job numbers from last month cannot answer that question, economists almost universally agree that the cost to the economy depends on how long the standoff lasts, and whether the much larger danger of a debt default can be averted.
“If it’s short, it’s barely a blip on the radar,” said Ellen Zentner, senior United States economist at Morgan Stanley. “If a shutdown is prolonged, it’s a whole different story.”
Like many Wall Street economists, Ms. Zentner estimates that each week of the shutdown will shave one-tenth to two-tenths of a percentage point off economic growth in the final quarter of 2013.
That may not sound like much, especially in a $16 trillion economy. And during the last extended shutdown in the mid-1990s...