|This is nothing short of amazing. Walker promised he would create 250K jobs during his first term in office. He has been in office a little over a year and WI could have less jobs than when he started even as the recovery is picking up steam. Instead, all he has done is divide WI in a way I have never seen before. |
March release of employment situation highly anticipated
11:49 AM, Feb. 21, 2012 |
The state Department of Workforce Development will release job numbers next month that could be the most anticipated statistics of Gov. Scott Walker's short tenure.
If the January and February numbers show Wisconsin lost another 4,500 positions, the state will — on paper — have fewer jobs now than before Walker took office.
That could be a big blow for a governor who once joked that he'd tattoo "250,000 jobs" on the foreheads of his cabinet secretaries to remind them of the administration's reason to exist.
If this comes to pass, Republicans likely will downplay the numbers, and contend their reforms are working and only require more time before the benefits are clear.
Democrats, on the other hand, will seize the numbers as proof the governor's efforts have failed.
But over at the agency that puts out those numbers, Nelse Grundvig will just shake his head and keep plugging away. Grundvig is DWD's labor market information director — a job that requires a skill in high math and a tolerance for partisan bickering.
He is the kind of person who can add two plus two and end up with three. Or five, depending on the margin of error. The kind of person for whom "accurate" and "precise" hold different meanings. In short, a numbers person.
Every month, DWD jobs numbers are snatched up and bandied about as proof of either our salvation, or ruination, depending on your political persuasion. Problem is, those numbers were never meant to be taken as gospel.
"They have become lightning rods," he says. "People don't realize, they're basically just a poll. They're not meant to be taken as a census of jobs in the state."
Welcoming new jobs When Walker took office, Wisconsin had about 2.74 million jobs. For the next six months, the state ticked upward slightly, increasing the official tally to about 2.77 million. But beginning in June, the state started a six-month slide that cost 35,000 jobs and left it about where it started.
Walker visited manufacturing sites in Greenville and Peshtigo on Monday, pushing the creation of nearly 100 jobs by two businesses.
During his visit to Industrial Ventilation Inc. in Greenville, Walker pushed the need for the state to generate more family-sustaining jobs.
Industrial Ventilation, a mechanical contractor that employs 127 people, said Monday it plans to build a 27,000-square-foot facility that, when finished in late summer, will create 30 new jobs, including engineering and assorted manufacturing positions.
"We're pleased (Industrial Ventilation) decided to expand here," Walker said Monday. "We need more stories like IVI."
He said the Greenville company chose to expand in Wisconsin because it preferred the state's business climate. It did not receive any state assistance or other incentives to expand, he said.
Walker said the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the former state Department of Commerce, can be effective in helping other companies succeed in Wisconsin as well as luring business away from neighboring states.
Earlier Monday in Peshtigo, Walker welcomed Precision Iceblast Corp. to the state. That business is relocating from Wallace, Mich., and is expected to bring 64 new jobs.
"They also preferred Wisconsin's business climate," Walker said. "To make the move happen, we had to help with tax credits, which the WEDC was able to provide. We have to be good stewards of the taxpayer's dollars and do things that will create jobs … it's a careful balance."
WEDC is providing Precision Iceblast with up to $400,000 in tax credits over three years to support its relocation. Precision IceBlast plans to invest more than $1.45 million to construct its production and product-training facility.
Assessing the job market When trying to determine Wisconsin's job market, officials employ a methodology similar to the one pollsters use to chart a politician's popularity. The approach is uniform among the states and has been used — with some tweaks — for more than 100 years.
In Wisconsin, labor officials poll 6,000 employers, about 4 percent of the total. These businesses represent types of industry, which means changes at one plant or company can color the results for an entire sector.
But whenever experts like Grundvig look at these numbers, they keep in mind that these monthly estimates carry a margin of error of plus or minus 9,400 this year. This means that when they see a report showing the state added 6,000 jobs, they know the reality could be the state lost 3,400.
A similar approach is used to gauge the state's unemployment rate. To get that data, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys a group of about 54,000 homes across the country, about 1,450 of them from Wisconsin.
The unemployment numbers have a margin of error that decreases when the jobless rate gets higher. An unemployment rate of 5 percent has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.5 percent.
Sometimes the unemployment numbers do not match the job numbers, which can seem counter-intuitive. In December, the state experienced an official drop in jobs at the same time as the unemployment rate dipped from 7.3 to 7.1 percent.
"They measure similar things but use two different approaches to tell what is happening with the economy," said Dennis Winters, DWD's chief economic adviser. "Usually, eventually, they fall in line at some point."
Charles Franklin, a Marquette University Law School political scientist and longtime pollster, said this approach is a logical one.
"We like to say those kinds of numbers are accurate, but not precise," he said. "But in the long run, they can give you a fairly clear picture of what's going on (in) the state."
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics releases job numbers in its monthly preliminary report, a set of numbers that are often incomplete and misleading. Participants do not always reply by the deadline, causing fluctuations.
DWD releases "revised" numbers the next month, which are more accurate. But those numbers rarely generate the kind of media attention the early ones do.
In 2011, the difference between preliminary and revised numbers averaged more than 1,400 a month. The worst example was in October, when the preliminary numbers were off by 7,300. That month the Bureau of Labor Statistics originally said the state lost 9,700 jobs; the revised number was a loss of 2,400.
"Sometimes it can just be noise," Grundvig said. "That's why you can't make too much out of any set of numbers."