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By James B. Nelson August 31, 2014
By Dave Umhoefer August 31, 2014

Scott Walker says Wisconsin third in Midwest in jobs created

A new television ad from Gov. Scott Walker returns to the theme of job creation and paints an upbeat picture of how Wisconsin is faring.

Working to blunt criticism from Democratic challenger Mary Burke that his administration has failed to deliver on his No. 1 campaign promise to add 250,000 private sector jobs, Walker compares Wisconsin with other Midwest states.

In the ad, outlines of states appear on the screen as Walker speaks directly to the camera:

"Well, the latest job numbers are in and Wisconsin created more private sector jobs than Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio, and Illinois. That means we ranked third in the Midwest."

With Burke repeatedly claiming Wisconsin is "dead last" in job creation in the Midwest, we thought it was time to look at both claims.

As with the Burke claim, many factors are at work, including the time frame and the measure being used.

About the numbers

Walker doesn’t say it to the camera, but fine print on the screen says the ad’s claim is based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics (CES) for the period of July 2013 to July 2014.

He’s talking about the most recent one-year period, not his entire term.

Wisconsin added 36,100 jobs in that one-year time frame, which does place it third among the 10 Midwest states, behind Indiana and Michigan.

Here is how the picture looks:


States ranked by on growth in number of jobs, July 2013-14

Private-sector jobs added

National rank on jobs added

1. Indiana



2. Michigan



3. Wisconsin



4. Minnesota



5. Ohio



6. Illinois



7. North Dakota


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8. Iowa



9. Nebraska



10. South Dakota




In the comparison, Walker used preliminary July 2014 data, which will be adjusted in one month. A Bureau of Labor Statistics official said it was reasonable to compare that figure to the July 2013 figure, with the caveat that the July 2014 figure will change.

Behind the numbers

A subtle but important note: In his claim, Walker uses the raw number of jobs created as his measuring stick -- not the percentage increase, which is the measure preferred by economists. Using the percentage change allows for a better comparison, due to the varying size of states.

That is, smaller states like South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa have fewer people and a smaller economic base to start from.

But it’s notable that even on that measure, Wisconsin outperformed states with larger economies and populations such as Ohio and Illinois over the last year.

And when the percentage growth is used, Wisconsin only slips a bit -- to fourth-highest among the 10.

Another point to consider, also important, is Walker’s use of the monthly jobs data.

Those monthly numbers are extrapolated from a survey of 3 percent of state businesses. As such, they are subject to considerable revisions and include a wide margin of error.

Walker himself has called the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, which is based on a census of 96 percent of employers, the "gold standard" for jobs.

Not long after taking office, Walker’s spokesman issued an email statement in March 2011 saying the governor would use the quarterly data because of his "commitment to use verifiable, actual job counts, not just monthly job estimates."

That said, in the new ad, Walker does signal he’s using the monthly estimates this time -- he refers to "the latest" numbers, which go through July 2014. By contrast, the more-accurate quarterly data lags behind by six months. The most recent quarterly data ends with the last quarter of 2013.

Campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre told us that timeliness was one factor in the campaign’s use of the monthly numbers. And we think it is defensible to use it to provide insight into the latest trends. It is regularly used and reported by economists and news outlets.

In our own Walk-O-Meter, as we track progress toward Walker’s 250,000 private-sector job pledge, we use the solid quarterly jobs figures from 2011, 2012 and 2013 to provide the best picture for the first three full years of Walker’s term. Then, to give a sense of the most recent pictures, we use the most recent monthly jobs numbers.

Our most recent tally shows 147,187 jobs to go. We have rated the promise Stalled.

Finally, Walker defined the "Midwest" as 10 states -- the same states Burke used in her claim.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ midwest regional office covers those 10 states, and typically cites only the 10. In some instances, the agency adds two more -- Missouri and Kansas.

Wisconsin ranks fourth of 12 on raw number of jobs added in the year.

Our rating

Walker’s new TV ad says the latest jobs figures show Wisconsin is third in the Midwest on the number of jobs created.

The number checks out, using the measuring stick and timeframe Walker chose. To be sure, the monthly numbers he uses are not as reliable as quarterly ones, which Walker himself has labeled the "gold standard."

But by using raw numbers to measure the increase, instead of a percentage-based approach that levels the playing field, he gives Wisconsin -- and himself -- a bit of a boost.

We rate Walker’s claim Mostly True.


Deciphering jobs claims

Voters will hear many more jobs claims before the Nov. 4 election. Here are five tips for separating fact from fiction -- and hype from hard evidence -- when it comes to candidates and the numbers they use.

  1. Check the timeframe: If the statement covers a short period, it can be a red flag for cherry-picking data to find a good result. A longer time frame may be being used to mask more recent changes.

  2. Check the data source: The quarterly jobs numbers are more accurate than the monthly figures, but also more out of date. Be more skeptical of recent announcement about the monthly numbers, because they are subject to revisions can be significant.

  3. Raw numbers or percentages?: If the claim is that State X added more jobs than State Y, the statement may have limited information value. Look for percentage growth figures that level the playing field among states of varying sizes.

  4. Check the map: When the claim is "best in the region," trust but verify. Are all relevant states included?

  5. Scrutinize the sector: Most claims focus on just the private sector, but sometimes partisans will add in public employees if it suits their purpose.


Our Sources

Gov. Scott Walker television ad, "Third in the Midwest," Aug. 25, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "For Scott Walker, jobs count may be bigger headache than John Doe," June 21, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin posts jobs gains but still lags behind national average," June 19, 2014

United States Census state statistics

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

Reginald Newson, secretary, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, press release, May 18, 2012

Interview with Brent Buxton, economist, CES State and Area division,, Aug. 25, 2014

Email, Alleigh Marre, spokeswoman, Gov. Scott Walker campaign, Aug. 26, 2014

Email, John Dipko, spokesman, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Aug. 26, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin Walk-o-Meter tracking of Gov. Scott Walker’s jobs promise

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by James B. Nelson

Scott Walker says Wisconsin third in Midwest in jobs created

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