SPECIAL REPORT: Political Ads Spar over Jobs Numbers

By: Madeline Anderson Email
By: Madeline Anderson Email

It’s turned into a war of numbers between Democrats and Republicans in the weeks leading up to the recall election. Both Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are using different numbers to highlight Wisconsin’s progress on the jobs front.

So what does the data really mean? And how much credit should people give or blame should people place on the governor?

Last week, the monthly jobs report came out, showing the state lost 6,200 private sector jobs in April. This comes on top of March’s bad news that Wisconsin lost 33,900 jobs in 2011, the worst in the country.

Barrett has been using the numbers to give steam to his longstanding attack that Walker can’t keep his promise of creating 250-thousand private-sector jobs by 2015.

Meanwhile, Walker is looking at a different set of numbers, showing Wisconsin actually gained a modest 23,321 public and private sector jobs last year.

So what’s more reliable? The monthly survey that Barrett references takes a sample of less than 5 percent of businesses in the state.
So it's well known the margin of error is high. The quarterly census Walker uses takes into account 150 thousand employers around the state, more than 95 percent. It's more accurate and often is used to adjust those monthly numbers four times a year.

But there are a few things to point out. The Walker administration released the numbers a month and a half before they were set to come out on June 28. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics usually reviews and verifies the figures after the state sends them in. Also, since the quarterly report hasn’t come out yet, it's impossible to compare Wisconsin to any other states. Finally, the monthly and quarterly data are more than 57,000 jobs apart. Do those factors matter?

“It's just a few thousand jobs one way or the other,” said Tom Smeeding, an expert in economics and labor at UW-Madison. “And neither of the series look incredibly promising. Of course politicians will jump on the numbers they like. And push away the ones they don't.”

Smeeding says despite what both sides want you to believe, Wisconsin isn’t unique in its economic situation.

"Many states are losing public sector jobs because the economy is terrible, the state revenues are terrible,” Smeeding said.

How much of a role do the governor’s job creation efforts play in the numbers game?

"The facts of the matter are, it is really hard for any governor anywhere to gain employment,” Smeeding said.

With just one year under his belt, it's hard to gauge Walker's jobs success, especially when so many factors influence the state's economy. While his critics point out he's no where near the 250,000 jobs goal, Walker's campaign says the recent positive numbers show Wisconsin is moving in the right direction.

Bottom line: It's too early to tell whether either set of data are completely accurate. The state will have a clearer picture in late June of just how Wisconsin has been doing on the jobs front.
Until then, residents can expect both sides to use numbers that are favorable to them.

A note from NewsChannel 7: In these special reports, it's our goal to fact check the claims in a number of political ads from both Democrats and Republicans leading up to the June 5 recall election—a reminder that NewsChannel 7 does not endorse candidates in any political races.

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