For the second day in a row, the state's job numbers provided fodder for the ongoing fight between Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic detractors.
The Department of Workforce Development on Thursday released April's monthly job estimate, a report that continued the recent trend of showing lowering unemployment at the same time as it gives sagging job numbers.
The monthly estimate shows the unemployment level dropping from 6.8 percent in March to 6.7 percent in April. But it also shows that Wisconsin lost 5,900 jobs between March and April, and 21,400 since April 2011. The state has added 12,200 jobs this year, the report said.
Those numbers present a different picture than a report released by DWD Wednesday that says the state created 23,300 jobs in 2011. Based on the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, that report is derived from state tax and unemployment insurance reports from about 160,000 state employers.
The quarterly reports are usually sent to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for review before they are released to the public. Though generally considered more accurate, the information is often tweaked and changed at the federal level.
Critics of Gov. Scott Walker saw the state's unusual early release of its quarterly numbers Wednesday as a political stunt designed to help the embattled Republican governor in his June 5 recall showdown with Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Sluggish job numbers have dogged the Walker administration. The governor made jobs his top priority on the campaign and vowed to help bring 250,000 jobs to the state by the end of his first term.
"These dismal jobs numbers make it clear why Gov. Walker and his partisan political cronies pushed their own unique, uncomparable jobs data three weeks before an election," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. "They knew today's data — which is comparable — would continue to show that Gov. Walker has the worst jobs record of any governor in the country."
A BLS report last month pointed out that Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs in the past year, the largest percentage job loss in the country. The report found that while 27 states and the District of Columbia saw significant job increases, only Wisconsin saw "statistically significant" job losses.
Every month, the BLS releases its jobs estimate based on a poll of 5,500 Wisconsin employers, about 3.5 percent of the total. While scientifically sound, that approach this year carries a margin of error of plus or minus 9,400 jobs. So the 5,900 jobs lost last month could actually range from a loss of 15,300 jobs to a gain of 3,500.
The state has always accepted this as part of the process and rarely made any mention of the volatility. But in the past month, the administration has started taking a different tack with the numbers it helps compile.
Wednesday night the governor went on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" to tout the quarterly report and downplay the monthly estimates put out through his own administration. He referred to the monthly estimate put out by the state as numbers his "opponents" were using to criticize him.
And on Thursday DWD Secretary Reggie Newson took time while announcing the new monthly estimate to again call attention to what he sees as problems with those numbers.
"When a highly volatile data series diverts from other indicators of job growth — such as fewer unemployment insurance claims and increasing state sales and income tax collections — it creates a misleading picture that's out of line with other indicators that show Wisconsin's economy is headed in the right direction," he said.
But such comments were seen as political spin by Walker's detractors. State Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, said the governor was trying to put "lipstick" on a pig by ignoring the job numbers that are not good for his re-election bid.
"We know he will continue his self-serving attempt to distract from his failed record of extreme policies and job losses, but these numbers clearly show that Gov. Walker continues to have the worst jobs record in the country," she said.