The state of employment in Wisconsin will play a key role in the 2014 race for governor. That’s because Gov. Scott Walker made creating 250,000 private-sector jobs his top campaign pledge in 2010 -- and our tracking shows he’s not on pace to meet the goal.
In recent weeks, Democrats have criticized Walker’s record on jobs, highlighting comparisons between Wisconsin and other states, and a lack of growth in manufacturing jobs.
A claim from state Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, stood out. He argued the state is actually backsliding on the jobs front.
"Every year since Gov. Walker and the Republicans have been in control of the Legislature we’ve created fewer jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics," Hulsey said on "The Devil’s Advocates" radio show, broadcast on 92.1 FM in Madison.
That caught our attention, because most signs indicate the economy is slowly recovering, and in tracking the jobs promise on the Walk-O-Meter we have seen the opposite trend, increases each year being a little larger than the previous one.
So is Hulsey right?
Have the new jobs been going down each year since Walker took office?
When we asked Hulsey for his evidence, he cited Bureau of Labor Statistics private-sector job reports. Based on those figures, his office calculated it this way:
2011: 33,700 new jobs
2012: 32,300 new jobs
2013: 30,873 new jobs.
The 2013 number is through November, the most recent month available when he made the claim. So, it seems like Hulsey found a downward trend.
But there’s a catch -- actually several catches -- that affect the numbers and the trend cited by Hulsey. When it comes to jobs counting, the devil is in the details.
How are the numbers calculated?
Hulsey uses the monthly Current Employment Statistics, which come from interviews with a tiny sample -- about 3 percent -- of the state’s businesses. Those preliminary figures are estimates and carry a large margin of error. The numbers are made final the following month and often adjusted widely.
How did Hulsey come up with his downward trend? Let’s examine each year.
2011: Hulsey says the state added 33,700 private sector jobs. He arrived at that number by taking the January 2012 jobs count of 2,362,100 and subtracting the January 2011 figure of 2,328,400 jobs.
There’s one problem: this calculation doesn’t include the 10,100 jobs added in January 2011. That was Walker’s first month in office. So the more accurate starting point would be to use the December 2010, the last month before Walker took office, through December 2011. When you do that, you get an increase of 32,500.
In short, Hulsey uses only 11 months of 2011 data for Walker’s first year.
We’re off to a bad start.
2012: Hulsey says the state added 32,300 jobs. He got that figure by taking the January 2013 count and subtracting the January 2012 count. That’s 12 months, but that’s not the calendar year.
He should have subtracted the December 2011 figure from December 2012. When you do, it comes to 23,800 for 2012.
2013: Hulsey says that through November the state had created 30,873 jobs. Again he was off with the months he used. When you subtract December of 2012 from November of 2013, you get 40,900 new jobs for the 11-month period.
So here are the figures: 32,500 jobs, followed by 23,800 and then 40,900. That’s a bit of a mix, but does not match the three consecutive downward years Hulsey claims.
We also note that the last full year under Walker’s predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle, the state created 30,700 jobs. Walker’s first full year topped Doyle by 1,800 jobs, according to the CES.
But there’s another wrinkle.
There is far better data available for 2011 and 2012.
That’s the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, a BLS survey of about 96 percent of all state businesses. Here’s what those numbers show:
2011: 29,800 new jobs
2012: 33,872 new jobs
The final figures for 2013 won’t be available until June, so the next best figures come from the monthly numbers. And as of November, those showed a 40,700 increase.
So the trend is exactly the opposite of what Hulsey claimed.
Hulsey says state employers have added fewer jobs every year since Walker and the Republicans took control of state government.
His evidence is based on two years of calculations that don’t include the full calendar year, and a projection for the third year that doesn’t track with the figures he cites. Also, for two years, he uses data that’s been superceded by far more accurate data.
Either way you cut it, the claim is wrong. We rate Hulsey’s claim False.