Wisconsin jobs: up or down?

Campaign ads, jobs reports paint conflicting pictures

Published On: May 02 2012 03:33:39 PM CDT   Updated On: May 02 2012 06:49:48 PM CDT

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Between the campaign ads and conflicting jobs reports numbers, it's hard to know whether Wisconsin is actually losing or gaining jobs.

According to the latest jobs numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin has lost 23,900 jobs since March 2011. However, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development's latest jobs report shows 18,500 more people in the state have a job now, compared to the same time last year.

It's no surprise the Democratic candidates running in the recall election for governor are latching on to the report that shows Wisconsin has experienced job loss in the last year. They're blaming that on Republican Governor Scott Walker.

In a campaign ad released just this week, Tom Barrett is described as the "jobs governor Wisconsin needs."

Barrett is even questioning whether the state's jobs numbers are politically motivated.

"I think clearly, you've got a situation where you have an embattled governor. I'm going to believe the objective figures right now, not the ones coming out from an administration that has an election 36 days from now," said Barrett.

So, is he suggesting the state's job numbers could be manipulated?

"I don't know the answer to that question," said Barrett. "I just don't know."

Reggie Newson, Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development secretary, disputes any allegations that political bias can influence the numbers.

"Absolutely not. This is a process that's done by civil servants, professional state employees and there's no influence whatsoever," said Newson.

"I think Mayor Barrett is confused because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does the estimates for the state," he explained.

"In a campaign, you take everything with a grain of salt," said Joe Heim, a political science professor at UW-La Crosse.

Heim says it's unlikely the state jobs numbers would be manipulated.

"The top level politicians do stuff like that but the middle range civil servants...generally do not play games with statistics," said Heim.

He says the discrepancy in the numbers likely comes from different sampling methods. Although, Heim says it's not impossible to think there's pressure to report good news on the number one campaign issue right now.

"The people on the top do have some influence and these are (Governor) Walker appointments so you could at least wonder whether they have some impact but I still hold to the idea that you're talking about different ways of collecting information," said Heim.

There's no clear answer on which side is right.  But you can be sure the candidates for governor will continue to spin the job numbers in their favor.