Lies and Statistics: Controversy and confusion over state's jobs numbers
Post by Emily Mills on 5/20/2012 9:00am
State representative Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) filed an open records request on Friday for all of the jobs data sent by Gov. Scott Walker's administration to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Richards, among others, alleges that the numbers released on Wednesday by the Walker administration are "unverified and incomplete," and that the timing of the disclosure is politically suspicious, coming just three weeks before a recall election against the governor on June 5.
Walker is touting his own report that he says comes “directly from employers” and shows Wisconsin gaining 23,300 jobs in 2011. That’s in direct opposition to revised numbers about to be released by the BLS showing the state having lost nearly 34,000 jobs in the last year.
“It looks like 160,000 Wisconsin employers helped show us the thousands of new jobs that BLS estimates missed last year,” state Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson said of the new numbers. “The bottom line is Wisconsin added jobs in 2011.”
The Walker administration is also pointing to a presentation made by Department of Revenue chief economist John Koskinen that criticizes the BLS’ methodology.
So what’s the difference between the two sets of data being relied upon here?
The BLS uses the Establishment Payroll Survey to estimate job growth or loss in every state over the course of a year. That survey involves the Department of Labor calling both private and government workplaces in the state and asking how many people are currently employed. The results of the EPS are the basis for the non-farm jobs numbers reported nationally each month.
The DOL also conducts a monthly Current Population Survey, however, where they simply call homes in the state and ask residents if they are employed. This is where the unemployment figure for a state comes from – though the jobs these individuals hold may be out-of-state (ex. If someone lives in Wisconsin but works across the border in Minnesota or Illinois).
The CPS numbers may also be impacted by people dropping off the unemployment rolls entirely because they can’t find work, or their benefits expire.
However, Walker’s revised numbers are based on a third survey conducted by the DWD called the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. This survey significantly widens the sample pool to approximately 95 percent of the state’s businesses.
These new numbers have yet to be subjected to DoL scrutiny, though – the finalized report is not due to be released until June 28. Until then there is no way to compare Wisconsin’s number with any other states.
In an interview with Forbes’ Rick Ungar, Laura Dresser, a labor economist at The Center On Wisconsin Strategy at The University Of Wisconsin, notes that “even if we were to go along with Walker’s preferred metrics, despite their being completely out of synch with the remainder of the country, we simply end up ‘dancing around zero.’ While the Establishment Survey puts the numbers of jobs lost slightly below zero, the alternative survey preferred by the Walker people puts them just above zero. At the end of the day, we’re talking about zero job growth—even under Walker’s favored, if completely unorthodox, approach.”
As of the most recent BLS report Wisconsin ranks last for job growth in the country. Walker had made creating 250,000 jobs during his first four years in office a central platform of his campaign for governor in 2010.
According to Politifact the number of jobs added during Walker’s tenure so far is estimated at 5,900.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin is also accusing the Walker campaign of illegal coordination with the DWD over the revised jobs report, pointing to a television ad run the morning of the announcement that included the DWD’s numbers. The DPW has filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board and the Dane County District Attorney.
Both Walker campaign spokesperson Ciara Matthews and DWD secretary Reggie Newson denied that any such coordination took place.
Matthews claimed that “Walker shot a number of versions of the TV ad before the final numbers were made public. She says final touches were put on the ad before it was sent electronically to TV stations.”
DPW chairman Mike Tate disagrees. “It's simply not believable that [Walker] was not briefed on these numbers in advance and this isn't done to benefit the campaign. And, the state government illegally coordinated with his political campaign to put this ad out the same time, virtually moments after he started talking about the new jobs numbers," Tate said.
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at