Let’s Play Spin The Statistics

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In his recent political ads, Governor Walker has been proudly trumpeting the fact that there has been a fall in the unemployment rate over the last year, from 7.6% to 6.8%. Unfortunately for Wisconsin (and for the Governor, if the Democrats are smart enough to counter his positive spin with ads of their own), there are more ways to account for this decline than by a growth in the number of jobs: it could result merely from a shrinkage of the number of people looking for work, or from thousands of unemployed people leaving Wisconsin to look for work elsewhere.

The full story won’t be known for a while, but a further statistic found in the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicates that Wisconsin was the only state to actually lose a statistically significant number of jobs over the last year. To keep his promise to add 250,000 new jobs in four years, the Governor now has add 273,900 jobs in three years. That is, if he has three years left on the job, rather than six weeks. As JSOnline summarizes

Wisconsin is the only state that had “statistically significant” job losses over the most recent 12-month period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From March 2011 to March 2012, Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs. That was the largest decrease in percentage terms in the country. Those job losses came from both the public and private sector, but the public sector job losses (17,800) were larger than the private-sector job losses (6,100).

At the same time, Wisconsin was one of 18 states that had a statistically significant drop in the unemployment rate during the same period, from 7.6% to 6.8%. Wisconsin has experienced both job declines and a drop in unemployment at various times over the past year. The two indicators come from different surveys, and the decline in the unemployment rate has also reflected a decline in the number of people looking for work.

If you’re the kind who’s able to read a BLS report without falling asleep, or if you can’t quite manage that but you need to fall asleep anyway, you can find the original report here.