By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
Perhaps UW-Milwaukee Professor of Governmental Affairs Mordecai Lee is right this time. The former Democratic State Senator said in an interview with Fox 6 News in Milwaukee that people have already made up their minds on whom to trust concerning the latest job statistics.
“Whatever side they’re on, they’re filtering the news, and they’re saying ‘I knew my side was right,’ and when they hear the news from the other side, they think ‘they’re a bunch of liars,” he said.
Certainly in the case of some on the political left, they were ready to make up their minds before Governor Scott Walker touted new, more accurate, job statistics that show Wisconsin actually gained 23,300 jobs in 2011. The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages is the result of a census of 150,000 employers in the state, not a statistical sampling. Walker announced the good news for Wisconsin last week, prior to the normal reporting of the data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
However, Rick Ungar, a leftwing writer appearing in Forbes, couldn’t even wait for the new numbers and incorrectly attacked Walker for using the “Current Population Survey.” The “Current Population Survey” uses a survey of individuals asking them if they’re working.
Ungar wrote, “The Current Population Survey, favored by Governor Walker, involves calling households to ask people if they are working. This is the survey that gives us our monthly unemployment number–the number that is consistently attacked by Obama foes because it is impacted by factors such as how many people have dropped out of the hunt for a job, expiration of unemployment benefits and other events that skew the numbers.”
Unfortunately for Ungar’s analysis, those were not the numbers used by Walker. That did not, however, prevent MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow from mixing apples and oranges by quoting Ungar after the new numbers were released even though his analysis was based on the wrong set of numbers.
Ungar also attacked the new jobs numbers even before they were released. WTDY’s Amy Barrilleaux, actually quoted a “tweet” by Walker explaining where the jobs numbers came from. When Ungar responded, he ignored the Twitter posting and incorrectly accused Walker of wanting to use different benchmarks for revising the monthly BLS data to come up with more favorable jobs numbers. “One of the things that he is going to suggest, or according to the presentation that his chief economic advisor made, he used numbers that go back to how these numbers used to be benchmarked.”
The numbers referred to by Ungar are from the Establishment Survey compiled by the BLS, the monthly jobs numbers almost everyone is familiar with. That’s a survey of 3.5% of Wisconsin’s employers subject to major revisions as the data is compared to other employment data. Ungar claimed Walker was going to try to use an old method of benchmarking the numbers instead to produce a more favorable result.
Ungar did add an addendum to his article after the numbers came out showing that Ungar’s speculations were completely wrong. Ungar switched attacks, merely pointing out that Walker is short of the pace for his goal of 250,000 jobs by the end of his normal four-year term. By the time the “correction” was added, the spin was on and Ungar is still being quoted as if his guess work had merit.
This is not the first time Ungar has been completely confused by the situation in Wisconsin in the Walker era. Last year Ungar wrote that taxpayers do not contribute to state employee pensions. In an article from February 2011 (a Forbes “popular post”), Ungar actually claimed that because the pensions were deferred compensation for state employees, taxpayers were not paying anything. He even compared state employees to professional athletes. (Actually state employees have better job security, work rules, and probably benefits.)
Ungar of course failed to mention is that Wisconsin taxpayers were paying both sides of that equation, the employee contribution and the state contribution, and that deferred compensation is actually an additional pension program. Ungar made an incomplete backtrack from this article, too.
I’ve joked here before about living by the monthly job numbers, dying by the monthly jobs numbers. Even the seasonally adjusted numbers are subject to substantial revisions, something Wisconsin Democrats should be well aware of. Prior to a major revision of the BLS Establishment survey numbers from last year, Democrats were campaigning that Wisconsin lost jobs for six months straight at the end of last year. After the revision, it turned out that several of those months actually had job growth.
Given that history, when Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett talks about “fiction writers” making up jobs numbers, he should be directing that to the monthly Establishment Survey numbers which have proven to be inadequate to the task of measuring job growth in Wisconsin. Economists agree, including those that have signed the petitions to recall the governor, that the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages gives the most accurate picture of Wisconsin’s job growth since Walker took office.