Democrats Question Validity of New Job Numbers
MacIver News Service | March 26, 2013
The Senate Committee on Economic Development and Local Government held a joint hearing with the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining on Tuesday to discuss economic indicators in Wisconsin.
Secretary Reggie Newson, Department of Workforce Development, and John Koskinen, Chief Economist for the Department of Revenue, both gave testimony that Wisconsin is heading in the right direction.
This is in contrast to two years ago where Wisconsin had lost over 150,000 jobs, Newson explained. “Based on all the indicators we look at, the state is moving in the right direction. We are adding jobs here in the state of Wisconsin.”
Koskinen’s testimony and power point presentation showed that the Bureau of Labor Statistics was previously using data with a second quarter benchmark to provide statistics for job losses or gains. BLS found that this data was not accurate, and revised the system so that it reviewed nine months worth of data instead of just six. With the revisions, Koskinen explained that in 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin had actually gained jobs, which is in contrast to the previous reports.
Koskinen also stated that Wisconsin has consistently had a lower unemployment rate than the United States average, and pointed out that initial Unemployment Insurance claims in the state are now lower than pre-recession levels.
Democrats accused the Walker Administration of politicizing the jobs numbers. “I just want to remind everyone sort of the danger of politicizing economic development decisions,” said Representative Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). Hintz questioned why BLS numbers were acceptable in the early 2000’s when jobs were good, but now the administration is trying to change them.
Secretary Newson explained that the numbers should be accurate and not be politicized. “That’s why we are here today, to make sure we provide accurate jobs information.” Newson was part of a group that urged BLS to revise the numbers to a third quarter benchmark because the original statistics were found to be inaccurate.
In January, BLS ranked Wisconsin 44th in private sector job growth, a statistic that Democrats like to bring up in opposition of Governor Walker’s policies. Representative Mary Williams (R-Medford) asked Koskinen if this ranking was still accurate with the revised numbers. Koskinen stated that, “I would no longer conclude it would be 44.”
Though Koskinen could not give an exact ranking based on the revised numbers, he explained the Wisconsin had some of the largest gains in the country over the previously reported numbers. The improvement in the revised data was better than all of Wisconsin’s neighboring states.
Democrats also questioned some proposals in Governor Walker’s budget. One issue in particular was closing the skills gap. Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) claimed that it is not just the skills gap that keeps residents from being employed and that making someone look for a job four times per week instead twice may not increase employment.
Taylor claimed that incentives for job training also may not be enough to decrease the unemployment rates, especially among African American males.
“When a white man can go and be employed, and get employed for a job, and interview for a job and he has a criminal record, and a black man can interview for that same job, based on the work and the study that was done, and that black man not get the job, and the white man get the job. I think that those are real factors that you have to look at,” stated Taylor referring to studies from Dr. Levine at UW-Milwaukee and Dr. Wells at Cardinal Stritch University examining the skills gap.
Representative JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) ended the testimony by once again questioning the validity of the revised jobs numbers. Zamarripa said the administration was politicizing the numbers for their benefit, bringing up the release of revised data three weeks before the recall election of Governor Walker.
Chief Economist Koskinen corrected Zamarripa about the revisions stating that, “The revisions that we are speaking to were the revisions by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are not a product of Wisconsin.”
The Department of Workforce Development released job numbers last May because the data being provided by BLS was incorrect. As stated by Newson and Koskinen, the revised numbers from BLS now show an accurate picture of Wisconsin’s job growth.