Wednesday, April 2, 2014

So who's really lying about jobs?

This week, we've been having another episode of "Spin your Econ Stats, and the Fact-Checking." So I ask you, which of these episodes are more egregious?

1. In Mary Burke's job plan (a heavily-detailed document that I recommend you read), there is the following claim
on Page 3.
Shrinking Wages: Wisconsin wages are declining at double the rate of other states, and current indicators suggest these trends will continue if we stay on the current path. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private-sector wages in Wisconsin fell 2.2% in the 12 months ending September 2012, double the 1.1% decline experienced by the nation overall.6 Wisconsin has a nearly $4,000 wage gap with the rest of the country.
So Wisconsin Politi-"fact" decided to look into this claim of falling wages, which comes from the Quarterly Census on Wages and Employment, and came out with this analysis.
-- For the quarter ending December 2012, the average weekly wage went up (4.9 percent), not down, compared with the same period a year earlier. That was tied for 18th best among the states, and only slightly trailed the national average wage increase.

-- By March 2013, the average increase was 1.2 percent, three times better than the national average.

-- By June 2013, the increase was 2.2 percent, slightly above the national average and tied for 19th.

-- For the one-year period ending in the September 2013 quarter, the state’s wage growth was fifth best in the country, beating the national average (3.4 percent gain vs. 1.9 percent gain).
And a quick check of the QCEW's great mapping tool proves Politi-fact correct on this count. We WERE declining in wages faster than the rest of the county, but we ARE NOT doing so in the latest reports. The mistake by the Burke campaign is the use of present tense to imply that the "declining wages" trend was continuing. As a result, Politi-crap gave the claim a "Pants on Fire" level of lie, criticizing the Burke campaign for cherry-picking numbers to make a different point (that wages had stagnated and fallen under Walker). Keep this one in mind for later.

But the Burke campaign is correct that wages are still stagnating under Walker. If you look at the QCEW's numbers for private sector wages for the two years from Sept. 2011 to Sept. 2013, you'll find that average private sector wages in Wisconsin are only up 1.01%- and that's before inflation is taken into account. This 1.01% increase trails our neighbors in Iowa (1.75%) and Minnesota (3.76%). In addition, the $795 average weekly wage is the 3rd lowest in the 7-state Midwest, showing that Wisconsin has not become prosperous in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, and this doesn't even mention Walker's jobs gap of 54,000 that has made this state fall further and further behind.

That being said, it's inexcusably stupid for the Burke people to hang their hat on such an easy-to-discredit claim when there are so many other indicators that show just how bad the state has performed in Walker's 3+ years in office. The Burke people also should have been hammering on Walker's Administration for their own version of dishonest cherry-picking, which was illustrated again in a ridiculous release by the Department of Workforce Development yesterday.
"Today's U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that Wisconsin's 6.7 percent annual average unemployment rate for 2013 ranked 20th best in the country and below the national rate of 7.4 percent," Secretary [Reggie] Newson said. "Additionally, our state ranked 17th best in the country in the BLS' broadest measure of labor underutilization covering the unemployed, part-time workers and those who are marginally attached to the workforce."

Highlights of today's BLS report include (all based on seasonally adjusted data):

 Wisconsin's average unemployment rate in 2013 was 6.7%, well below the national average for the same time period of 7.3% and below the rates of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

 All six measures of labor underutilizations trended downward in Wisconsin in 2013, making Wisconsin one of 33 states in which all six measures went down during 2013.

 The broadest measure of labor underutilization, the U-6 rate, decreased from 13.1% to 12.1% in 2013, well below the annual average for the nation at 13.8%.
If you were naïve (or in the Wisconsin media, but I repeat myself), you might think this is impressive. But if you knew any of the context of what Scott Walker was handed when he took office in 2011, you'd realize this is an elaborate April Fools' Joke, because these statements are proof of mediocrity that followed Wisconsin performing well in prior years, and not successes in 2013.

First, take a look at the BLS report mentioned. Hilariously, it's been out for a month, but the DWD portrays it as a new thing (guess when you lost 9,500 jobs in February, you wouldn't want the most recent data mentioned). As the release mentions, the average unemployment rate in 2013 was 6.7% in Wisconsin (20th lowest in the U.S., and below the U.S. average), but look at where it was in 2010 (under Jim Doyle) and in 2011 (Walker's first year).

In 2010, Wisconsin had unemployment rates at least 1.5% lower than Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, so still being ahead of these states 3 years later is hardly a place for celebration. And there is very little improvement over the last 2 years, which is when the full effect of Walker policies have been in force, with Wisconsin's advantage over the rest of the nation in lower unemployment being much smaller. In fact, average unemployment in Wisconsin fell more between 2010-2011 than it has in the 2 years since.

2010 8.5% (26th, -1.1% vs. U.S.)
2011 7.5% (21st, -1.4% vs. U.S.)
2013 6.7% (20th, -0.7% vs. U.S.)

So for Walker's DWD to trumpet the 2013 figures as some kind of accomplishment is to forget that we were improving a lot more before Act 10 and the first Walker budget were put into place in early-to-mid 2011. This slammed the brakes on our recovering state, and we are now reverting back toward the U.S. average, instead of being well ahead of the curve. By comparison, Minnesota's unemployment rate was only 1.2% lower than us in 2010, and in 2013 was 1.6% lower, down at 5.1%, even though they were much closer to full employment.

But since Polit-"fact" writes for a publication that seems to accept Walker Administration dishonesty and cherry-picking while criticizing the Mary Burke campaign for the same tactics, you won't see that reality of underperformance be examined in the near future. And that is to the detriment of all us, both in the casual, lower-info voter category that doesn't know these things and (wrongly) looks to Politi-"fact" as an authority, and the ones of us who do know the data, and want it brought to light.

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