State gains 15,700 private-sector jobs in January; 2011 revisions show overall loss

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development today released the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary data for January 2012, showing Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9%, on a seasonally adjusted basis, from a revised 7.0% in December 2011, as the state added 15,700 private-sector jobs. The data is preliminary, but it reverses six consecutive months of job losses reported from July to December of 2011.

Yet in another example of how contradictory employment data can be, revised data from 2011 shows the state actually lost over 12,000 jobs last year, even though more people are now employed than at the beginning of 2011.

Wisconsin’s preliminary January unemployment rate now is the lowest it has been since December of 2008, and “it remains well below the national rate,” Secretary Reggie Newson said in a press release. “In addition, the preliminary monthly job estimates show growth across most industry sectors."

One-month job gains were seen in construction, up 4,200; manufacturing, up 3,700; professional and business services, up 3,600; leisure and hospitality, up 3,300; and retail, up 2,200. For all of 2011, the manufacturing sector saw job growth of 8,900.

Overall in January, the state added 12,500 non-farm jobs, which means government jobs declined by 3,200.

National employment data for February will be made official on Friday. The national unemployment rate currently stands at 8.3%, down from 9.1% in January of 2011.

Revisionist history

The DWD also released updated monthly data for 2011. Generally, job gains and job losses were overstated in preliminary data, and some monthly data featured very large swings from the preliminary numbers to the revised or benchmarked figures. For example, the largest variation came in June, when preliminary data indicated that 11,000 new jobs were created, but the benchmarked number later showed that 9,000 jobs were lost, a swing of 20,000.

Based on the benchmarked figures, months that saw nonfarm job gains (with benchmarked variations in parentheses) included: January, up 4,400 (-3,700); February, up 5,400 (-2,800); March, up 4,300 (-3,400); September, up 5,000 (+16,000); and December, up 400 (+2,100).

Months that saw job losses were: April, down 1,100 (-4,600); May, down 1,900 (-2,600); June, down 9,000 (-20,000); July, down 3,700 (+2,700); August, down 9,800 (-9,300); October, down 2,800 (-400); and November, down 11,800 (+1,800).

The DWD's report provides amunition for people on both sides of the state's political divide. The revisions indicate that Wisconsin actually lost 12,500 jobs in 2011, with most of the losses coming after passage of the controversial budget reform bill. However, the numbers also could augment Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to fend off a recall challenge because there now are 209,900 people unemployed in Wisconsin, which is 26,700 less than when he took office in January of 2011, when the state's unemployment rate was 7.7%.

Overall, there are 3,054,700 people in the state's civilian labor force, and 2,844,800 of them are employed.