Scott Walker and his minions are again doing the Wisconsin Jobs Tango. When new numbers come out and are favorable, Walker uses those numbers. When the numbers are negative, Team Walker pulls statistics out of context to seem favorable. The announcements are all very dramatic, with plenty of grand, seductive rhetoric as Walker tango-dances his partner -- in this case the average Wisconsin worker and voter. But it all amounts to virtually nothing, except a short emotional rush.

Take the administration's breathless news recently that Wisconsin's unemployment rate in March fell slightly to 5.9%. The state unemployment rate was four-tenths of one percent lower than the national rate for the month, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wonderful, huh? Well, maybe slightly better than a sharp stick in your eye. And maybe not.

For starters, as others have observed, this apparent good news was based on a monthly survey of employers, which survey Walker previously disowned as unreliable, at least when the results have not been to Walker's liking. But when any statistical kernel from these supposedly unreliable reports is even slightly positive compared to quarterly surveys he has deemed more accurate, Walker can't wait to shove the lesser number out the door and promptly perform a happy dance.

Beyond the fact that the March numbers are going to face future adjustment, they are even more problematic in the broader context. For one thing, unemployment in many states is continuing to trend down, thanks to improvements in the national economy that have nothing to do with Scott Walker's stewardship of the Wisconsin economy -- if, of course, you could even call his reckless, feckless, fiscal and policy tinkering stewardship. And don't forget that the national unemployment rate likewise fell in March to 6.3 percent. Republicans have consistently decried that rate as totally out of control, even as they keep voting to cut unemployment benefits and block any effort to stimulate the private sector into more production. If it's good it's bad, and if it's bad it's good.

But enough of percentages. After all, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. How many employed Wisconsin people are there in total, anyway? That's the imporatnt number, right? In looking at this, let's dispense with the usual, fevered speculation over whether Walker is going to come even close to his pledge (which he has lately tried to redact) of 250,000 new jobs in his first term. He won't, but other hard numbers tell an even more surprising story.

Wisconsin's pool of unemployed workers was 214,000 in January 2011 when Walker took office (about half a year before his policies could have affected that number one way or another). As of March 2014, more than three years of Walker rule, the pool of unemployed Wisconsin workers was 183,173. That's about 31,000 fewer jobless workers than when he took office. A positive change, true. But before tripping the light fantastic, let's widen out our view. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people unemployed in Wisconsin peaked in June 2009 at 286,953. There are now 103,780 fewer people unemployed in the state. That's good, right? Yes, but.

The Great Recession began devastating Wisconsin and national employment in early 2008. Before that, Wisconsin had about 2.9 million total jobs. As the recession eased, unemployment began to ease a year later, peaking in January 2010 and then declined. Wisconsin posted more historically consistent job-creation numbers in the final months of the Doyle administration. Then Walker took over in January, when the state's total employment was 2.83 million jobs, and shook up state government by deregulating business and giving other boons to employers while slashing public education spending and cutting public worker wages by billions. That led to a sudden slowing in the state's job recovery, a slowing that has only somewhat diminished in the past year. Result: This March, the state had 2.85 million total jobs. It's true, Wisconsin under Walker has yet to get back to where we as a state were before the Great Recession. And if you've been unemployed all that time or even a goodly part of it, his tango dancing has been of cold comfort.

No matter how many new jobs the state has added during Walker's tenure, and no matter the unemployment rate. If existing jobs are disappearing even while new ones are being created, what's been the net result? FEWER TOTAL JOBS.  If you look at Bureau of Labor Statistics figures on total Wisconsin employment (see URL below) it's apparent the net gain in actual total employment over Walker's tenure through March has been only about 50,000 jobs. [The BLS figures are for recent months subject to further revision, while early months in that period have already been adjusted, including an adjustment to control for overall state population change.] 

The Center on Wisconsin Strategy added further context in a largely ignored report issued last Labor Day [the figures are already several months behind, but the observation remains fundamentally accurate]:

The national recovery has been weak. And in Wisconsin, the recovery has lagged behind even the meager pace posted nationally... .  We find that Wisconsin would have 33,000 more jobs today if we’d only kept on pace with the national recovery. Since the Wisconsin economy began to grew, we’ve added 99,000 jobs. If Wisconsin had tracked the national recovery, the economy would have added 132,000 jobs. That difference, 33,000 jobs, is a measure of the how Wisconsin lags behind the national trend. To be sure, even that national trend is too weak. But in Wisconsin, we should have 33,000 more jobs today than we do.

Wisconsin's economic performance is worse than apparent in part because, besides the extremely modest job creation totals, many long-term unemployed Wisconsin residents have dropped off the unemployment radar screen by giving up their work search, while those who do work are in many cases paid less, or work fewer hours, or both. And the picture gets even worse if you look for other important details that have been painted over. What, for example, should we make of the state's rampant, expanding poverty, festering in the double digits, and made worse by Walker's stingy approach to the social safety net? Never mind! Nothing to see there! Things are great! It's working, Wisconsin! Or, as Walker said at the just-concluded GOP state convention, "Wisconsin is on." On what, governor? Drugs?

All of this is of course dependent on just how much you even believe Walker is in charge of and responsible for the state's economy. However, he continues to hang his campaign hat on that very belief. Lately, Walker lately has been getting a love smooch from mainstream media outlets like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where editorial writers have just re-divined that governors don't really affect job creation very much, even while Republicans paradoxically contend that joblessness in Wisconsin is -- ahem, was -- all the fault of the previous governor. Also, things were so much worse during the Great Recession, when Walker's chief Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, was state commerce secretary and had everything to do with it, even though -- despite the GOP's usual, contorted view -- she had nothing to do with it. Mind-bending, isn't it?

Submitted by Man MKE on