So did Wisconsin lose jobs, or gain them, in 2011? The answer could make a huge difference in the June 5 recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The Walker administration is now touting a new set of numbers to assert that Walker has actually been creating jobs, in spite of separate data that says otherwise.
Walker has been facing questions about a promise he made in 2010 to create 250,000 private-sector jobs during his first term. The monthly surveys from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics have indicated that the state lost 9,700 private-sector jobs, and 33,900 jobs total, through 2011.
On Wednesday, the Walker administration issued a new set of numbers — based on a separate measuring method that they say is superior — to show that Wisconsin actually created over 23,321 private and public jobs in 2011, a difference of 57,221.
At issue are two different sets of measurements: the Current Employment Survey, and the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.
The monthly jobs numbers that comprise the bulk of media coverage come from the Current Employment Survey, which involves a detailed poll of businesses — in Wisconsin’s case it is about 3.5 percent of the state’s employers. The initial numbers are often adjusted and revised. They are also the standard measurement relied on by states to measure the pace of job creation.
By contrast, the Walker administration is citing the state’s data for the Quarterly Census. This involves a more thorough review from 96 percent of the state’s businesses, taken from the tax reports of businesses that pay state or federal unemployment insurance, to map out concrete data.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does review and revise the state data, however, it is a process that is still ongoing. The Quarterly Census normally has a six-month lag time, between the period of data collection and final release, and currently includes data through December 2011.
As the Wisconsin State Journal points out, the state’s Quarterly Census numbers are meant for inclusion in the BLS national report — which is not scheduled for final publication until June 28, more than three weeks after the recall election itself.
“For the first time, we see Wisconsin’s 2011 jobs picture based on what 96 percent of Wisconsin employers reported, not what statistics out of Washington, D.C. estimated based on a survey of 3.5 percent of Wisconsin businesses,” Wisconsin Secretary of Workforce Development Reggie Newson said in a press release. “Wisconsin added jobs last year, which not only contradicts the loss in jobs that the federal government estimated for our state, but also lines up with other indicators that show Wisconsin’s economy is headed in the right direction.”
Newson, who was appointed by Walker in 2011, denied that the early release of the state’s jobs census data was politically motivated for the recall:
“We have a responsibility to the job creators, the employers and the job-seekers … to make sure they have an accurate depiction of the true economic situation in the state of Wisconsin. They need this information to be accurate so they can make informed decisions. That’s why we are correcting the record,” said Newson. He called the previously released data showing job losses in Wisconsin “volatile, imprecise” and “unreliable” even though the Walker campaign is using the monthly data in TV ads because it shows job growth in early 2012.
In response, the Barrett campaign accused Walker of opportunistically changing the standard measurements:
From communications director Phil Walzak:
“When it has suited him, Scott Walker has happily referenced the standard jobs statistics that basically everyone in the country uses. But since these regular, trusted numbers clearly show that Wisconsin leads the nation in jobs loss on his watch, Walker is desperate to distract from his worst-in-the-country jobs record. In a move that is virtually unheard of, Scott Walker is suddenly trotting out an altogether new set of unverified numbers - three weeks before an election - to mask his economic failure. Walker ran on a campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs and 10,000 businesses over four years. He is failing on both counts and is desperate to change the conversation on jobs with an election looming.”
“Today’s cynical announcement isn’t about how best to calculate job growth in Wisconsin - this is about Scott Walker pulling political stunts to save his own job.”
TPM asked some economics experts at the University of Wisconsin how to make sense of the competing numbers.
“They both have their strengths and weaknesses,” said professor Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at UW-Madison. “Offhand, I don’t see that one dominates the other. The numbers that were released today apparently haven’t been reviewed by BLS — so they’ve been rushed out, because there’s some good news in them. I would wait until tomorrow when the other survey is released.”
Smeeding said that the state’s underlying economic problem has been a decline in the state’s manufacturing sector over the last three decades, as companies get leaner and increase per-worker productivity in order to keep costs down and stay competitive. What is needed, Smeeding said, are comprehensive education and workforce training policies that will make Wisconsin workers better equipped.
“Neither survey is showing that we’re doing enough to make a dent in market-based poverty,” said Smeeding. “We need to think about policies that might help us grow faster, much of which will bring with it employment, but not all of it in the manufacturing sector.”
Andrew Reschovsky, a professor of public affairs and applied economics at UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs, told TPM that the Quarterly Census does have clear advantages over the monthly surveys, thanks to its much wider base. But he cautioned that they still represent preliminary numbers that have not been fully vetted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Either way, Reschovsky said, Wisconsin’s economy is still weak.
“Obviously, this is part of a very heated gubernatorial race, in the recall, so both sides want to spin these numbers to their advantage,” said Reschovsky. “And why did the governor release the numbers now? It doesn’t say that, but presumably politics plays a role in it. … Certainly, seeing job growth is better than seeing job declines, the data we were getting form the monthly number. But both of them tell the same story — that the job performance in Wisconsin has been quite weak over 2011. These are not rapid job-growth numbers.”
Reschovsky added: “It’s still a low rate of growth. And one way to put it in context is, Walker was claiming to create 250,000 jobs over the next four years from getting into office. That’s 62,500 a year, so obviously compared to that it’s anemic job growth.”