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Reality Check: Walker touts job numbers from quarterly census

Published On: May 16 2012 06:43:33 PM CDT
Updated On: May 31 2012 05:36:00 PM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

Following the release of better jobs figures by Gov. Scott Walker's administration, which job numbers should Wisconsin residents believe?

And what's the truth about the timing? The new figures Walker issued on Wednesday come less than three weeks before voters will decide whether he should stay in office or be replaced with Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

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. Walker's administration said the numbers show Wisconsin added 23,300 public- and private-sector jobs last year instead of losing 33,900.

First, it's important to understand the difference between the numbers released Wednesday by the Walker administration and the monthly jobs figures.

The job ups and downs that are released for every month are based on a survey of 3.5 percent of businesses. The federal Department of Labor calls a pre-set sample of companies and asks them how many people are employed. Those numbers are put into a formula that estimates preliminary jobs numbers for the state that can be revised later.

The monthly numbers are used across the country because they're the quickest way to get an economic picture of an area. It's an indicator the governor has relied on and touted before when it is to his benefit.

"The good news for us is in the state of Wisconsin in the month of June, we saw a new job increase of 9,500 jobs," said Walker in July of 2011 to applause.

The figures released by the Walker administration Wednesday are called the "Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages." These numbers are based on actual reports from more than 96 percent of businesses. They're reported four times a year and are typically used to "benchmark" or adjust those monthly numbers.

Which numbers should you rely on, or which are more accurate? WISC-TV found the monthly numbers come fast and are as accurate as they can be at the time. Technically the census data is the most complete picture of employment because it's an actual accounting of jobs.

Can the monthly jobs figures really be more than 57,000 jobs off? It's possible, but the difference is larger than it has been in the past.

Since 2006, the numbers have been adjusted up or down, but never more than 1 percentage point. In this case, the change would be more than 2 percent. A spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics told WISC-TV that numbers can be off because the numbers are just a survey.

It's also important to know that the jobs figures Walker released Wednesday have not been verified, nor are they usually released at this point.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics would typically work with the state for about 30 days to verify and edit the numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is scheduled to release the final jobs count on June 28, three weeks after the recall.

While the Walker administration is sticking to these figures, the month-to-month numbers for April should be released Thursday. 

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