Journal Sentinel Gets Snookered by Walker

Newspaper’s vaunted Politifact column approves of Walker’s very misleading claim about state job growth.

By - May 1st, 2014 12:15 pm
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Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

On Sunday, the Journal Sentinel’s fact-checking column PolitiFact examined Gov. Scott Walker’s statement, “In 2013 we had the largest, the best, private sector job growth we’ve had in this state since the 1990s.” PolitiFact and reporter Dave Umhoefer rate the statement as “Mostly True.” Their only concern is that the data are not final.

At their best, PolitiFact and its competitors examine not only the literal truth of politicians’ claims but whether they present an accurate picture of what is happening. Without the latter, they offer politicians a great opportunity to cherry pick data that support their argument while ignoring data that contradict it. In this case, however, Umhoefer and PolitiFact let Walker do just this by failing to add perspective to his claim.

As can be seen in the chart below, calculations of private sector jobs in comparison to jobs in the same month a year earlier have striking peaks and valleys. Walker was able to make this claim because December 2013 fell near the top of one of those peaks.

Wisconsin Annual Private Job Growth.

Wisconsin Annual Private Job Growth.

Even after adjusting for seasonality, monthly job data suffer from considerable variability due to the limits of sampling. Comparing two months compounds this variability if the first underestimates and the second overestimates what is happening in the population.

The implication of the governor’s claim is that job growth has been accelerating in Wisconsin. The actual data offer no support for this conclusion.

As I’ve previously reported, the Walker administration has a long history of selectively using data. For example, it has used absolute numbers of new jobs gained when comparing itself to other states, which gives it an automatic advantage over smaller states that disappears when you use the uniform comparison of the percentage increase in jobs.

Other examples can be found on the governor’s web site. Rather than comparing today’s unemployment rate with the rate when he entered office, Walker compares it to the peak of the recession, in essence claiming credit for the decline of 1.8 percent during his three years, but also for the 1.5 percent decline during Doyle’s last year.

As my story (and stories by others) also reported, Wisconsin has lagged behind the nation in job growth since Walker took office in January 2011. This is by now a well-known fact, yet this, too, is not noted in the Politifact column.

6 thoughts on “Journal Sentinel Gets Snookered by Walker”

  1. Independent Guy says:

    Bruce-

    He never outsourced jobs to China like your candidate, one percenter millionaire Mary Burke, did.

    The unemployment rate was 7.7% when Walker came into office and is 5.9% now. Wisconsin has created 100k new jobs.

    Next time you slam the Governor you should do some research.

  2. PMD says:

    Do people put much stock in PolitiFact? Do any of you feel it’s really useful? Whether it’s examining something a Democrat or Republican said, I find it arbitrary and mostly pointless. Most of the ratings are really easy to pick apart. I also love it when they rate something they found on Facebook or in an email chain letter. It’s like they are rating something your crazy uncle said at Thanksgiving.

  3. fightingboobfan says:

    The right will keep beating this jobs to China thing like a sea, imaginary horse.

    There might have been a handful of jobs eliminated by the China move, but the facts are Trek set a up separate operation to handle the NEW market.

    In fact, they might have hired people from here to do the set up. I know of a group of people who were brought on from Wisconsin to do just that when they set up in Ireland.

    There are 1,000 happy, decently paid people in Waterloo making bikes for the US market. Something no else does.

    It is you pal, who needs to do the research and if we did research into you, it is doubtful you are independent.

  4. Bruce Thompson says:

    Independent Guy: I am not sure just what to make of your post:
    1. They don’t address anything the article says.
    2. The figures you quoted suffer from the same drawback I objected to in my article. They offered no context. The US has been in a recovery for the last few years so it is not surprising that Wisconsin has been adding jobs and seeing unemployment drop. The more relevant question is how Wisconsin has fared relative to the US or to other states in the region. The answer to that is easy. The more difficult question is why Wisconsin has lagged behind most of its neighbors.
    3. On the question of jobs to China, you seem to be channeling Michael Moore.

  5. stacy moss says:

    I don’t know if the MJS was snookered. We are snookered by statistics all the time.

    If you look at the claim narrowly, as Walker proposed, it’s trivially true. As most
    statistics are out of context.

  6. Chris Jacobs says:

    Seems like a lot of selective nitpicking no matter how you slant it. I don’t think comparing numbers from a point being elected into office is very useful. Walker had been campaigning far before his entry point, Doyle was expected to be on the way out, and the anticipation of Walker’s election and some of his ideas to be employed were well known. Companies position their hiring practices in anticipation of a better economic environment, less tax burden, which is often expected with a republican candidate. In comparison to Doyle losing 140,000 jobs in his final 3 years in office, Walker’s results are stellar regardless. Comparison lagging with the nation isn’t a fair barometer either. Each state has its different environment with different kinds of economic sectors to deal with.

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