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Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

How Can They Both Be Right?

You Be The Judge

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We’re back with the latest installment of You Be The Judge, where our team of independent fact-checkers looks at a claim, puts it in context, goes beyond the carefully worded claim to break down the issues, presents all the facts and then lets you be the judge on whether it holds water.

There were a couple of doozies over the past week, but one headline really stood out as needing a thorough examination: “How Can They Both Be Right?” 

 

What’s Wisconsin’s Real Job Growth?

That’s what was emblazoned on the cover of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Labor Day morning regarding a pair of dueling jobs numbers claims, one from Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke, who’s claiming that Wisconsin ranks dead last in the Midwest on job growth, and one from Gov. Scott Walker, who’s claiming that Wisconsin ranks third in the Midwest in job growth. 

Third out of ten in the Midwest versus tenth out of ten in the Midwest—that’s a pretty big disparity. 

So let’s check it out. 

First up, Burke’s claim. Citing the latest and most accurate jobs numbers available, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), Mary Burke says that Wisconsin ranks dead last in private sector job growth in the Midwest, trailing North Dakota, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. A closer look tells us she’s right; from the time Scott Walker took office through the end of 2013—the latest QCEW data available—Wisconsin is in fact dead last in private sector job growth in the Midwest looking at the percentage change in employment. That’s an important distinction and one we’ll mention again. PolitiFact gets it right here—this is a completely True statement. 

Now we’ll take a look at Walker’s claim. Walker says the “latest” numbers show Wisconsin ranked third among the same states Mary Burke cites. 

But a look at Burke’s True claim—and the latest QCEW numbers—tells us that Walker’s claim is a “Pants on Fire” lie. 

So what is Walker relying on with this claim? Turns out he’s looking at the monthly Current Employment Statistics jobs numbers. Still federal data, but much less reliable than the QCEW.   

That’s because the CES is based on an estimate from 3% of employers, while the QCEW is based on actual, verifiable jobs numbers from 96% of employers—no wonder Scott Walker himself has referred to the QCEW, the numbers that Burke used, as the “gold standard” in jobs numbers. The numbers in the CES that Walker used are very questionable. In fact in June 2013, Walker’s own Department of Workforce Development put out a press release that reads in part: “As DWD has repeatedly pointed out, the monthly jobs estimates (CES) are flawed and a poor indicator of the true economic outlook in Wisconsin. Thus, any study or ranking using the monthly estimates should be viewed with increased scrutiny.” 

We agree—increased scrutiny is warranted based on the type of data cited and the statistics cited. Because not only is Walker using the data he previously dismissed as “flawed,” he’s citing the raw numbers of jobs added, not percentage added, over the past year. 

Why is it a mistake to look at the total jobs added and not the percentage? It’s all about context. If your Chicago buddy says Jay Cutler threw the ball 355 times last season, and Aaron Rodgers only threw the ball 290 times, so Cutler is clearly the best quarterback in the NFC North, would you buy it? Probably you’d say something like, “No, wait a minute, that might be true, but Aaron Rodgers completed a greater percentage of passes and with a higher quarterback rating. That’s a better indicator of success.”  If you use absolute numbers, a large state like Illinois or Ohio will invariably have a higher absolute number of new jobs than South Dakota, for example, but not necessarily a larger percentage growth. This is why economists favor percentage growth rates rather than absolute numbers to measure success. 

Same concept here. Cherry-picking season is over now and so should be the use of dishonest statistics. When we examine these two claims using the same set of data—the best, most reliable set—we see that Wisconsin is indisputably dead last in the Midwest in private sector job growth. So are both claims actually right? You be the judge.