Republican Gov. Scott Walker released updated employment figures Wednesday that show Wisconsin actually added a small number of jobs during his first year in office, hoping to undermine a central argument of those trying to recall him who argue he has hurt the state economy.
Walker, who faces a recall election June 5 largely because of anger over a law he championed that stripped nearly all public workers of collective bargaining rights, promised Wisconsin would add 250,000 private sector jobs during his first four-year term.
Initial figures gleaned from monthly employment surveys suggested the state lost 33,900 jobs, ranking it dead last among the 50 states and giving the Democrats and their candidate, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, powerful ammunition with which to attack his record.
But Walker took the unusual step Wednesday of releasing fourth-quarter data due out in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' June 28 national employment report that show Wisconsin added 23,300 public and private sector jobs last year.
The new numbers are a more accurate reflection of what's happening, but they still show very slow job growth for the state, said University of Wisconsin-Madison economist Andrew Reschovsky. Since they're being released early, it's impossible to tell how Wisconsin measures up nationwide, he said.
"The real story is the picture of anemic job growth in Wisconsin over 2011, very far from the goal that the governor set," Reschovsky said. "They tell us the economy, if it is growing, it's at a slow pace."
The difference between the new numbers and what is released monthly lies in how the numbers were generated.
The new numbers come from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, produced for inclusion in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' national report to be issued on June 28 - more than three weeks after the recall. Those figures are based on actual job counts reported by 160,000 Wisconsin employers as required by law as part of their tax and unemployment insurance reports.
The numbers that had previously been reported monthly and used by Walker and everyone else as a gauge of how well he was meeting his job-creation promise came from the Current Employment Survey, which surveys about 5,500 employers, or 3.5 percent of Wisconsin businesses.
Wisconsin and every other state rely on the survey for reporting job creation numbers.
The data released Wednesday by Walker more accurately reflects the job market in Wisconsin and is supported by other positive indicators, including a spike in the amount of tax money collected, said Brian Jacobsen, an economist with Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls. It doesn't tend to get as much attention because there's a six-month lag in what is reported, versus a two-month lag in the monthly data, he said. The monthly information, because it is based on such a small sample of businesses, is "fraught with problems," Jacobsen said.
Releasing the data now, ahead of when the Bureau of Labor Statistics processes it, is "unconventional and unusual, but it's not unethical or illegal," Jacobsen said. While the numbers are preliminary, the bureau typically only makes clerical revisions to the numbers submitted by the states, he said.
Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who will face off with Walker in the upcoming recall vote, said Walker was "cooking the books" and he had no idea whether any of the numbers released Wednesday were accurate.
"He's clearly scrambling to do everything he can to put himself in a better light," Barrett said.
Walker held a news conference last summer to tout monthly jobs numbers based on the Current Employment Survey that showed dramatic improvement in Wisconsin. But as the recall has neared, and the jobs numbers showed Wisconsin had the worst record of any state in job creation, he's looked to distance himself from them.
Walker argued that the new figures more accurately reflect what is happening in the state and are more in line with other positive economic indicators, such as a declining unemployment rate and rise in tax collections.
"No matter what you feel about the timing, no matter what you feel about the process, the facts are the facts and facts don't lie," Walker told reporters after speaking at a meeting of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin, in Brookfield.
Reggie Newson, the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and a Walker appointee, said in a news release that the state needs to move away from reporting what he said were more volatile jobs numbers based on the survey and instead rely on actual job counts as reflected in the data released Wednesday.
"We felt the need to share it with the public because employers, job creators and job seekers need to know the truth about the actual job picture in Wisconsin so they can make informed decisions," Newson said on a conference call.
The Walker administration has also been touting a presentation by state Department of Revenue chief economist John Koskinen, delivered to the American Association of Government Accountants, which also makes the case that the generally reported numbers based on the survey are out of whack with reality.
The latest jobs numbers for the month of April, which are based on the survey Walker is attempting to discredit, are to be released on Thursday. That will be the final such release before the recall.
Associated Press writer Dinesh Ramde contributed to this report from Brookfield.