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By James B. Nelson January 12, 2012

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says the state's jobs data is unreliable

The November jobs report, released Dec. 15, 2011by the state Department of Workforce Development, brought a mixture of disappointment and surprise.

The disappointment was the news that the state lost 11,700 jobs in November, the worst monthly decline in more than two years. The surprise was how Gov. Scott Walker’s response: He attacked the figures as unreliable.

Of course, this is the same monthly data Walker heralded in the first six months of his administration, when it showed job increases.

In his campaign for governor, Walker’s top promise was that the state would add 250,000 private sector jobs by the end of his four year term. (We track progress each month on the Walk-O-Meter. The December numbers are due to be released January 26, 2012.)

So, has Walker changed his view on the accuracy of the numbers?

Time to roll out the Flip-O-Meter and with it our requisite reminder: It does not measure whether any change in position is good politics or good policy, but simply whether a political figure has changed his or her position.

The numbers are compiled by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and released by the state agency. They are based on a survey of a sample of state employers and are routinely expressed as estimates. Each month, they are released as a preliminary number that is then "finalized" the next month.

The state jobs tally started out in an encouraging fashion for Walker, beginning with the report on January 2011 job growth, issued on March 9, 2011, that showed the state added a total of 11,300 jobs that month.

Walker took credit.

"The number one goal of my Administration is to get government out of the way so that the private sector can create 250,000 jobs by 2015," Walker said. "Adding over 10,000 private sector jobs in January shows that Wisconsin is on the right track toward fulfilling that important goal."

Manny Perez, then secretary of the Department of Workforce Development, said: "The numbers further reaffirm the importance of Gov. Walker’s approach to support policies that not only allow the private sector to create jobs in Wisconsin, but also accelerate job growth in our state."

Perez urged job seekers to polish their resumes so they wouldn’t be left out in the hiring.

"The economy is on the mend," he said.

So, the administration clearly viewed the numbers as reliable and meaningful.

Five months of job increases followed, concluding with a report for June, issued July 21, 2011, that showed another sharp increase, this time of 12,900 jobs. It was the largest single month increase in jobs since 2003.

Instead of issuing a news release from the department secretary, Walker came to Milwaukee to highlight the release of the June report. The state was in the midst of unprecedented state Senate recall elections that could have cost Walker’s party control of that chamber.

"To have 9,500 net new jobs in the state at a time when the country saw just 18,000 net new jobs all across the country is incredibly good news, and it's driven by the rebirth of tourism in the state," Walker said.

Workforce Development Secretary Scott Baumbach -- Walker’s second appointee to that post -- added that job-seekers and employers were "reaping the economic benefits of the business-friendly environment that Gov. Walker is advancing."

At the time the June jobs report was issued, the reports had shown a net increase of 39,300 private-sector jobs.

Then things changed.

The July report said the state lost 12,500 jobs -- wiping out much of the gain reported for the previous month. In the months that followed, the administration reported small monthly job losses.

Then on Dec. 15, 2011, the state report said Wisconsin lost 11,700 jobs in November, the steepest decline in more than two years.

The administration didn’t comment about the factors that contributed to the jobs loss. Instead, for the first time, Walker’s team criticized the quality of the data gathered by the feds.

Workforce development secretary Reggie Newson (Walker’s third appointee to the position) noted that the final October numbers had been revised from a loss of 9,300 jobs to a loss of only 1,400 -- a swing of 7,900. That monthly correction in the data was the largest this year -- an 85 percent change, compared an average correction of about 23 percent for the previous seven months of the year.

We previously rated a statement by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch that the monthly jobs numbers have a "margin of error of 75%" and were consistently "way off" Half True. Although there was a significant correction to the October data, there has been no change in the way the data is collected. The approach state has not changed since Walker took office.

What’s the bottom line?

Walker took credit for gains in state jobs for six months of 2011, as the monthly reports showed steady progress toward his promise of creating 250,000 jobs. In the second half of the year, the numbers began to decline and the governor’s approach shifted, with Walker in December criticizing the quality of the data.

But nothing had changed in how the data was collected.

Only Walker’s pronouncements on their accuracy. We rate this a Full Flop.

Our Sources

Telephone interview, John Dipko, spokesman, Georgie Maxwell, executive assistant, Nelse Grundvig, labor market information director, Dennis Winters, labor economist, Dec. 21, 2011.

PolitiFact Wisconsin Walk-O-Meter

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Preliminary vs revised job-change estimates in Wisconsin have 75 percent 'margin of error,' Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch says,"  Jan. 4, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State reports a gain of 12,900 private sector jobs," July 21, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State loses 11,700 private-sector jobs in November, agency says," Dec. 15, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State jobs figures carried an asterisk," Dec. 4, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State job market improves," March 22, 2011

Department of Workforce Development monthly jobs reports

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More by James B. Nelson

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says the state's jobs data is unreliable

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