We are about to get the estimate derived from the establishment survey on jobs gained or lost in April. As reported in this morning's paper, the estimate is expected to be disappointing because the national numbers for April were disappointing. In addition, if Department of Revenue economist John Koskinen's suggestion that our state's numbers are improperly benchmarked and understate economic activity, we might expect that to continue.
But there are a few things that we know for sure.
First, the claim that Wisconsin lost jobs in 2011 is wrong.
Sorry, but an actual count (and the QCEW is pretty close to that)
trumps an estimate. The reason that the surveys are used is that the
QCEW - as its name suggests - comes out quarterly and even then at a
substantial delay. (The numbers that were released "early" are for a
period ending almost five months ago - December 31, 2011.) But you can't
contradict a count with a survey. That narrative is over.
This isn't "fiction" and it isn't "made up" or "new" numbers. The
QCEW is a standard economic measure that the federal government has used
for years. The most that can be said is that we don't know how
Wisconsin's job gains in 2011 compared to other states.
Second, the argument over monthly numbers is not over which
one is the most accurate or the best, but about what they tell us
together. This is something that the media hasn't quite gotten
to. We are looking at a number of measures - jobs gained or lost based
on the establishment survey, jobs gained or lost based on the household
survey, the unemployment rate, increases or decreases in unemployment
claims, tax collections and periodic measures in personal income growth.
All have their strengths and weaknesses. What is significant is that
only one measure (the establishment survey) points to job losses. The
others point int the other direction. We are normally skeptical of
outliers. When most indicators tell us that jobs are growing and the
economy is improving, they the ones that are probably right.
Third, the most important thing may be that we are having this debate.
Remember, this is not a normal election. It is a recall. The Democrats
are asking us to do something that has happened only twice in the
history of this country. Having had a number of failed strategies, they
now are asking us to do it because they think Scott Walker has "wrecked"
the state's economy. If Walker's policies justify making him the third
Governor in the history of the nation to be recalled, they better have
been pretty bad.
But if they were that bad, we wouldn't need to be having esoteric
arguments over quarterly censuses and benchmarked surveys and tweaked
numbers. If Scott Walker deserved to be recalled for "wrecking" the
economy, we wouldn't need any numbers at all. We'd see newly shuttered stores and homeless encampments on the lakefront. We'd see Detroit.
But we don't. We see a state that is in better fiscal shape than it
was a year ago with rising tax revenue. We see a state in which we were
told that the new budget would lead to disaster, but where disaster is
no where to be seen. To be sure, the budget entailed hard choices and
cutting things that we might have preferred not to cut, but those
choices were inevitable.
The recall is about a garden variety policy dispute. It is about the
prerogatives of the public employee unions and Party of Government being
challeged. Let's just admit that and move forward.