About those job numbers, Scott

First of all, let’s all get a grip. This recall was supposed to have been about one thing: collective bargaining, and Scott Walker’s treacherous overreach regarding the same. Walker may be an impotent job creator (more on that later), but collective bargaining was the casus belli of this war.

Democrats in this state are starting to sound like George W. Bush apologists who argued that the Iraq War was about ousting Saddam and not, as we were continually led to believe, weapons of mass destruction. If we’re just going to randomly pick reasons we don’t want Scott Walker in office anymore, I’ve got a list of dozens scrawled on Kahlua-befouled cocktail napkins, including “looks like stoned hedgehog” and “look at him, that (illegible); seriously, something in the hedgehog family.”

But neither of those is a good reason to recall a sitting governor.

Neither, unfortunately, is poor economic performance – unless we’re talking “riots-in-the-streets, forced-to-stand-in-line-for-hours-to-buy-a-Starbucks-chai-latte” type of economic performance.

Like it or not, however, this recall has morphed into a referendum on job creation, and Scott Walker is hoping you’re not paying close attention.

But let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat. Scott Walker’s preferred numbers, which show that we added roughly 23,000 jobs in 2011, are better than the BLS numbers that showed we had lost jobs. Walker’s numbers, from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, are based on tax reports from 96% of state businesses, whereas the monthly jobs reports that were used to show we had lost jobs are based on the Current Employment Survey, which polled just 3.5% of businesses. The Quarterly Census numbers haven’t been reviewed, of course, and releasing them early was clearly a political ploy, but barring outright fraud on the part of Walker’s administration, our state really did add those jobs last year.

No amount of alchemy is going to change that – though I’ve seen plenty of attempts to magically alter the facts. We may not like that Walker pulled this stunt, but can you really blame him?

The more important question is, does the fact that our economy added some jobs last year rather than lost them trump Walker’s treachery on collective bargaining?

You might argue that job creation is entirely beside the point. Walker should be forced to walk the plank for his unprovoked attack on public workers. But if you’re on the fence, the economy is bound to enter into your decision on June 5.

So what should your response to the latest job numbers really be? Well, the way I look at it, Walker is kind of like the slow kid in school who runs home to show his mommy that he got a D+ on his coloring book. He still doesn’t stay inside the lines when he colors, but at least he’s not eating his crayons anymore.

This happens so much with Republicans, you’d almost swear it’s a deliberate strategy. Remember when Sarah Palin debated Joe Biden? She’d set the bar so low by that point, when she approached the podium in a dress instead of cut-off jean shorts – unencumbered by a cane pole and a soup can full of nightcrawlers – she was immediately lauded for her vice presidential timber. And when she managed to get through the debate without being asked whether Africa was a country or a continent, she was suddenly the new intellectual standard-bearer for the Republican Party.

So now Scott Walker is on TV morning, noon, and night in a new ad crowing about the jobs that have been created since he became governor.

A few observations regarding that:

  • The BLS numbers, which are used by every other state to track job creation, are not just pulled out of thin air. They have some connection to reality. And since we’re now comparing apples and oranges (we have Scott Walker’s bad apples and his somewhat better oranges, but still no oranges from other states to measure against), we still don’t know where our state stands. But since the apples-to-apples comparison has shown Wisconsin to be a back-of-the-pack laggard, it would be remarkable if the oranges-to-oranges comparison suddenly showed Walker to be a standout job creator.
  • According to a more thorough analysis – by Menzie Chinn, a professor of public affairs and economics at UW-Madison – we really are laggards. His analysis is full of charts, abstruse formulas, and lots of other fancy book-learnin’, but his conclusion is clear:

    “[E]ven with the numbers provided by Governor Walker's Administration, historical correlations between the NFP series and the QCEW show a lackluster performance in the Wisconsin labor market, with employment essentially stagnant since April 2011.

    “By the way, other indicators suggest lackluster economic activity, so I do not understand the Administration's assertions of growth through end-2011. The Philadelphia Fed's coincident index indicates that economic activity was essentially flat going from 2011M01 to 2011M12. BEA also reports 2011Q4 Wisconsin total income growth placed it in 50th place out of 50 states.”

  • As Chris Walker notes on his blog Political Heat, job growth in 2011 was actually slower than in 2010, when Jim Doyle was still governor:

    “When his predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, left office, Wisconsin saw a year-to-year growth of more than 36,000 jobs in his last year. Compare that to Walker's year-to-year numbers (again, according to his own calculations), and you see a significant drop in growth, to 23,000 jobs during 2011.”

    Yet in his new political ad, Scott Walker says his reforms are working and that he’s moving Wisconsin forward. Looks like backward to me.

  • Needless to say, Walker is far off the pace if he still plans to add 250,000 jobs in his first term, as he pledged – not to mention those promised 10,000 new businesses.

But hey, at least he isn’t eating his crayons anymore. We should all be thankful for that.

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