Data Wonk

Scott Walker’s Misleading Use of Job Data

Citing isolated fact to CNN contradicted by a raft of positive data on job growth.

By - Apr 3rd, 2024 03:30 pm
Scott Walker. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Scott Walker. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

According to a recent PolitiFact article published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, during a March 3 appearance on CNN, when asked how people are feeling about the presidential election, former Republican Gov. Scott Walker responded, “We just had 100% increase in layoffs.” Walker’s claim is based on planned layoff reports submitted by Wisconsin employers to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD).

The graph below shows planned layoffs over the past two years. Intended layoffs reported between April of 2022 and the following March are shown in yellow; those between April 2023 and this March in green. His comparison is based on January and February of 2024 versus the same two months 2023. Walker’s claim is technically correct, but is misleading and intended to spread a false message of gloom about the Wisconsin economy.

Layoff announcements are lumpish and can rise and fall month to month. For example, Walker’s two months are preceded by last December’s 17 layoffs and followed by March’s 113. Over 800 of January’s job loss are due to the closing of one hospital in Eau Claire. In fairness to Walker, the tiny March 2024 number of layoffs would not have been available at the time he spoke to CNN.

Worker layoffs in Wisconsin last two years

Worker layoffs in Wisconsin last two years

Walker’s comments to CNN about layoffs are clearly intended to spread the impression that the Wisconsin economy is in trouble; thus his decision to use those two months for his comparison. Do other data back him up?

The next graph plots the number of jobs in Wisconsin and the US between March 2022 and February 2024. Despite the layoffs, the number of jobs in both Wisconsin and the nation have been steadily growing.

Employment in the US and Wisconsin

Employment in the US and Wisconsin

A state’s labor-force participation rate is calculated by taking the number of all employed and unemployed workers and dividing that by the state’s civilian population. The next graph shows Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate along with that for the nation, based on data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Labor Force Participation Rate

Labor Force Participation Rate

Wisconsin’s rate has varied between 65% and 66%, which is substantially higher than the US rate that varies between 62% and 63%. This likely reflects the propensity of Wisconsin retirees to move to states with a warmer climate.

The next chart shows the Wisconsin and US unemployment rates over this period, as reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. For Wisconsin the rate of unemployment  remains around 3%, consistently below the US rate. But both rates are near historic lows.

Unemployment Rate

Unemployment Rate

Finally, the next graph shows the Wisconsin and US labor forces, defined as the number of people either working at a job or actively looking for employment, based on data from the federal U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Again, there is no support for Walker’s implicit message: that Wisconsin is facing an impending collapse of employment.

Labor force (millions)

Labor force (millions)

Why aren’t the layoffs reflected in the labor statistics? Most of the layoff letters from employers to the DWD do not discuss what the laid-off workers will do next. An exception is the letter from Interflight Parking Company announcing the lay-off of 53 workers at parking operations at Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport because of the termination of its contract with the county. The letter goes on to explain that the new contract is with SP Plus which “has given written assurance to our employees that they will be offered positions with SP Plus.”

It is also notable that three quarters of the January 2024 positions are for jobs in the health care field, an area that has recently seen employee shortages. One would expect that most of these workers would be quickly snapped up by other health care employers.

PolitiFact ends up rating Walker’s statement as “mostly true” meaning that the “former Wisconsin governor’s statement on layoffs is correct, but it’s lacking context.” I think this rating is overly generous. In truth this is an example of selectively choosing an isolated fact in order to give an inaccurate picture that’s contradicted by all the evidence.

Categories: Data Wonk, Politics

4 thoughts on “Data Wonk: Scott Walker’s Misleading Use of Job Data”

  1. Mzalewski says:

    Figures don’t lie. But Liars can figure.

  2. julia o'connor says:

    Once a schmuck…

  3. mkwagner says:

    It’s just more of the RRRs (radical reactionary republicans) attempt to lie about the state of the economy. The US and Wisconsin economies are stronger than the entire 8 years of the Walker administration. What’s more, the healthcare layouts in Eau Claire brings up the refusal to accept ACA Medicaid extension funds from the federal government. Would the Eau Claire hospital needed to close if healthcare in Wisconsin were healthier?

    RRRs love to wreak havoc and then blame it on the Democrats. All I have to say to them is, “Karma is coming.”

  4. TosaGramps1315 says:

    “In truth this is an example of selectively choosing an isolated fact in order to give an inaccurate picture that’s contradicted by all the evidence.”

    Page 1 of the GOP playbook. It’s time for Scott Walker to mimic his surname and walk into the sunset.

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