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When the state’s monthly jobs report was issued a few weeks before the Nov. 4, 2014 election, it received more attention than usual from Gov. Scott Walker.
With jobs and the economy a key focus in the tight race between Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke, the governor touted a report that said the state had added an estimated 8,400 jobs in September.
A day after the numbers came out, and hours before his second debate with Burke, Waker told the League of Wisconsin Municipalities in an Oct. 17, 2014 speech:
"Yesterday at noon, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development announced that our labor numbers, the numbers of jobs created in the private sector last month, for September, was 8,400 -- 8,400 new private-sector jobs were created in the state of Wisconsin last month."
He continued with a claim we want to check:
"That's the largest private-sector job creation we've had in the month of September in more than a decade. In more than a decade."
In the days since, Walker has repeated the claim many times.
Is he right?
The September jobs report is a preliminary one. It is extrapolated from a monthly survey of 3.5 percent of state employers by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As such, the monthly numbers have a large margin of error and can swing widely when they are made final.
This batch, for instance, has a margin of error of 7,980.
The numbers can even change again later, when much more accurate quarterly numbers -- based on a census of nearly every state employer -- can be used to adjust monthly numbers.
Nevertheless, the numbers are the most recent ones available.
When we asked Walker’s campaign for backup, spokeswoman Alleigh Marre simply made the point they are the most recent month numbers and noted the numbers are widely reported each month.
When we looked at a decade of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, September 2014 did come out on top:
The next-largest job gain for that time frame was an addition of 6,400 jobs in September 2012. The pendulum swung the other way in 2008, during the worst stretch of the economic downturn, when there were 8,700 jobs lost in that single month.
To be sure, the September 2014 numbers are preliminary and the ones for previous years are final. So, there is a bit of apples-oranges going on in the comparison.
But when when we rated Mostly True a Walker claim on how Wisconsin compares to Midwestern states for job growth over the past year, a federal BLS official told us it was reasonable to compare the preliminary number with a prior year, with the understanding the new number is not final.
In that claim, Walker had compared preliminary July numbers from 2014 with final July numbers from 2013. That comparison showed the state ranked third in the Midwest.
Of course, we can’t predict what the revised September jobs figure will be when the next round of data comes out in November 2014. But if it’s revised down by 2,000 or more jobs, then this would not be the best September in 10 years.
Again, that best-in-Midwest growth claim is instructive. When the final numbers came out, the ranking fell from third to fourth. (And Walker revised his talking point.)
In any case, we can only rate a claim based on what is known at the time it is made. And this one holds up, even by another measure.
We also dug out the preliminary September reports for past years, so we could see how preliminary numbers for September 2014 compare to preliminary numbers for previous Septembers (We’re kinda geeky that way).
The records for 2013 were complicated because of the federal government shut down and the comparable data for before 2009 wasn’t available. But the preliminary tally of 8,400 jobs in 2014 topped 2012 ( increase of 1,500), 2011 (decrease of 900) and 2010 (decrease of 9,900).
Past use of the numbers
Close readers will note that Walker has had a decidedly love-hate-love relationship with the monthly numbers, at times embracing them and at times dismissing them.
In December 2011, Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson described the numbers this way: "These unreliable employment statistics out of Washington misinform the public and create unnecessary anxiety for job seekers and job creators about the shape of our state’s economy."
Instead, state officials -- including Walker -- began to stress the more accurate quarterly numbers. Until the campaign season, when monthly numbers were back in vogue.
We have even put Walker’s views on the numbers on the Flip-O-Meter, and rated them a Full Flop. But here we are simply rating what Walker said; the Truth-O-Meter does not have a hypocrisy setting.
Walker claims that the September report which showed an increase of 8,400 jobs was the best in the past 10 years for that month. That stacks up. And a BLS official says the approach is legitimate, with the caveat the latest year is preliminary.
Thus, we rate the claim Mostly True.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State unemployment rate declines to 5.5 percent in September," Oct. 16, 2014
Emails, Alleigh Marre, spokeswoman Scott Walker campaign, Oct. 21, 2014
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Survey database
Gov. Scott Walker television ad, "Third in the Midwest," Aug. 25, 2014
PolitiFact Wisconsin Walk-o-Meter tracking of Gov. Scott Walker’s jobs promise
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