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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher May 24, 2012

Wisconsin recall challenger Tom Barrett accuses Scott Walker of "cooking the books" on jobs figures

Gov. Scott Walker rocked the recall campaign when he announced that Wisconsin didn’t lose 33,900 jobs during his first year in office -- as had been widely reported -- it actually gained 23,321 jobs.

Democratic challenger Tom Barrett fired back hard.

In a May 17, 2012 interview on MSNBC-TV’s "The Ed Show," the Milwaukee mayor told host Ed Schultz:  

"He's cooking the books, Ed. There's no question that these are figures that he just dreamed up 30 days before the election."

(Barrett also released a TV ad three days later, saying Walker is "playing tricks" with the new jobs numbers because "he didn’t like the real ones.")

So what’s Barrett’s evidence that Walker is "cooking the books" with numbers "he just dreamed up"?

Barrett campaign spokesman Phil Walzak made two points:

1. The jobs-increase figure Walker released to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 15, 2012 -- based on actual job counts from 95 percent of Wisconsin employers -- normally is submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reviewed and then released by the federal agency.

"Basically, these numbers are unverified," Walzak said.

The Journal Sentinel has reported extensively on Walker’s release of the jobs numbers.

It is highly unusual for a state, rather than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to release the jobs count. A BLS official told the newspaper the count, done quarterly, rarely changes much after the BLS review. But Abdur Chowdhury, chairman of the Marquette University economics department, told PolitiFact Wisconsin that "sometimes the mistakes are very small, sometimes they are very large." At the same time, Chowdury agreed with other economists that the quarterly job counts, once they’re released by BLS, are the best means of job-counting available.

So, while the figure Walker released has not yet been verified, it is not one that was "dreamed up." The figure is derived from an extensive job count by the state that is regularly reported to the federal government.

2. Given that the BLS isn’t scheduled to officially release the jobs count until three weeks after the recall election, Walker’s release of it three weeks before the election "raises some serious questions," Walzak said.

He noted that the Journal Sentinel reported that never had there been such a large difference between the previously reported figure -- Wisconsin losing 23,321 jobs in 2011 -- and Walker’s claim of 33,900 jobs gained.

However, the two job measures vary considerably in reliability.

The jobs figure released by Walker is based on the actual quarterly job counts; the previously reported jobs-lost figure is an estimate based on monthly surveys of about 3.5 percent to 5 percent of Wisconsin employers. Moreover, according to BLS, the monthly net change in jobs in the survey can be off by 9,340 jobs in either direction.

So, although the timing of Walker’s release was to his political advantage, the figure he released is a more reliable source of employment data, state officials and many economists told the Journal Sentinel. In fact, the federal government ultimately uses the quarterly counts to revise the monthly jobs estimates.

Our rating

Barrett said Walker is "cooking the books" by releasing 2011 jobs data "he just dreamed up."

The figures Walker released haven’t yet been verified by the federal government. But they are based on job counts done quarterly by the state that involve about 95 percent of Wisconsin employers. And Barrett provided no evidence that the number Walker submitted was somehow manipulated.

We rate Barrett’s statement False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources, Tom Barrett interview (quote at 2:05) on MSNBC-TV’s "The Ed Show," May 17, 2012

Gov. Scott Walker, "What is the best way to count jobs?" news release, May 16, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker speeds release of positive jobs data," May 15, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Revisions to job statistics nothing new for politics," May 16, 2012

Tom Barrett campaign, "Prosecutors" TV ad, posted May 20, 2012

Interview, Tom Barrett campaign spokesman Phil Walzak, May 21, 2012

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, 2011 jobs increase news release, May 16, 2012

Email interview, Scott Walker campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews, May 18, 2012

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More by Tom Kertscher

Wisconsin recall challenger Tom Barrett accuses Scott Walker of "cooking the books" on jobs figures

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