Ah, those ever-shifting and often-confusing jobs numbers.
State officials are reporting an upward revision to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, saying it shows Wisconsin has actually been adding positions over the past year — although not nearly enough to help Gov. Scott Walker hit his job creation target.
Initial estimates from the federal government had shown Wisconsin losing jobs in 10 of 12 months in 2012. Those numbers, called the Current Employment Statistics (CES), are based on surveys of 3 percent of state employers.
But the BLS likely underestimated the number of jobs in Wisconsin, based on an annual process called “benchmarking." Each March, the BLS readjusts its estimates based on actual unemployment insurance data gathered from 97 percent of state businesses. That benchmarking now says the Wisconsin CES numbers were underestimated by 2.5 percent.
“As we pointed out many times when the monthly estimates were initially published, the estimations of thousands of job losses were based on unreliable methodology and did not track with all other economic indicators in the state showing job creation,” says Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson in a statement.
Using that adjusted bencmark, the BLS is now showing Wisconsin with 2,796,000 jobs in December 2012 , up 67,100 from the previous December estimate.
“The revised totals show just how far off the mark those initial estimates were,” says Newson.
Nationally, the benchmarking adjustment announced Thursday was 0.3 percent and it’s unclear why it was so much higher for Wisconsin. BLS officials contacted by The Capital Times on Friday declined to speculate on that question.
More answers might be coming on Monday when the BLS releases revised data for all the states, which should offer a clear indication of how Wisconsin matches up with its peers. Earlier data was showing Wisconsin in the bottom 10 percent of states on job creation over the past two years. We will update the Cap Times' interactive jobs database after the new numbers are released.
The job numbers in Wisconsin have taken on added political significance because of Gov. Walker’s much-publicized vow to create 250,000 new jobs during his four-year term. A conservative Republican, Walker has branded the state “Open for Business” while pushing tax cuts and deregulation measures designed to help spur the private sector to hire more workers.
But the most recent adjusted figures posted on the state’s WORKnet website show Wisconsin has added 55,900 jobs since Walker took office two years ago — leaving the governor well behind the pace needed to hit his goal.
Politics aside, perhaps a more telling figure is that Wisconsin had 2,784,600 jobs at the end of 2012 compared to 2,878,300 at the end of 2007. So it remains 93,700 behind pre-recession employment levels.
“The good news is that Wisconsin is adding some jobs but the rate of growth is too slow to make much of dent in the job deficit,” says Laura Dresser, a UW-Madison economist.
To that end, the state unemployment rate jumped to 7 percent in January from 6.7 percent in December. The state added 12,900 private-sector jobs in January but lost 10,600 government jobs, according to the BLS estimates.
The national rate fell to 7.8 percent in February, down from 7.9 percent in January. The state unemployment data for February has not been released yet.