“Scott Walker’s exaggerated claims of employment trends in Wisconsin”

That’s the title of WaPo’s FactChecker recap of the Governor’s misrepresentations. Three Pinocchio’s!

Here is a graphical depiction of Wisconsin private payroll employment, Governor Walker’s August 2013 promise of 250,000 new jobs by January 2015, and how long it will take to hit that target assuming employment evolves as it has since Governor Walker took office.


Figure 1: Wisconsin private nonfarm payroll employment (blue), and path promised by Walker in August 2013 (red), forecast from random walk with drift estimated over the 2011M01-2015M07 sample (green), and 90% band (gray). Left scale is logarithmic. Source: BLS, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, author’s calculations.

Update: The irrepressible Rick Stryker argues that WaPo is merely pushing distortions in the guise of fact checking. Let me merely provide another graph, wherein we see how Walker’s touting of a lower unemployment rate than the US is — at the very least — misleading.


Figure 2: Wisconsin minus US unemployment rate, in percentage points (blue), and linear trend in this differential over the Walker terms (red). Green shaded area Walker terms. Source: BLS, and author’s calculations.

The graph indicates that on average Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is below the national average, so that it is nothing special to say that at the moment, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is lower than the US.

Observers will note that the trend is upward, i.e., improvement in Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is lagging the Nation’s. The trend is 0.144 ppts per year, t-stat 5.6 using HAC robust standard errors.

26 thoughts on ““Scott Walker’s exaggerated claims of employment trends in Wisconsin”

  1. Rick Stryker

    This is a very good example of the fact checking scam that many newspapers run. These columns purport to be objective arbiters of fact, and if they just focused on verifying facts, they might be useful. But usually they are just thinly disguised editorials that attack conservatives disproportionately, although they do throw in a few attacks on the Left to make it look good.

    The reporter who wrote this article, Michelle Ye Hee Lee, gave Walker 3 pinocchios. What does that mean? According the fact checker scale it means

    Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.

    1. Rick Stryker

      Finishing the comment, if you look at the article however, it confirms that Walker’s facts are essentially correct. Moreover, you struggle to find the “obvious contradictions.” Instead, the author takes issues with Walker’s interpretation of the facts, which is filled with judgment.

      Walker did not merit 3 pinocchios according to the fact checkers own rating scale. That he got 3 shows the bias behind the analysis.

      1. howard

        i read enough of the article to get to this:

        Walker had called 250,000 jobs “my floor, not my ceiling” and “a minimum, just a base.” But now, on the campaign trail, he emphasizes it as a “big bold goal.” He points instead to the decrease in the state’s unemployment rate, increase in the labor participation rate, and how they compare to the national average.

        since this quote in no way “confirms thatt walker’s facts are essentially correct” and in fact clearly demonstrates the essential dishonesty of what walked is saying right now, i saw no point in continuing and assumed that rick stryker is making a misleading comment himself.

        p.s. i made a bet with family members on new year’s eve that walker would win the gop nomination, so regardless of how i feel about him personally, i don’t want him to look like a buffoon. it turns out – and i hadn’t realized this by new year’s – that he just can’t help it, he is one.

      2. 2slugbaits

        Rick Stryker Okay, if you don’t think Walker deserved three Pinocchios, then how many do you think he deserved? Two and a half? Four? Zero? I guess your answer will tell us a lot about your tolerance for mendacity and deceit. A charitable interpretation of Walker’s promises about job growth would be to say those views have “evolved” over time. Now what was a missed floor has become a high end goal. If you bought a car that promised a minimum of 40mpg but actually got 25mpg and the dealer later explained the 40mpg promise as a stretch goal, how many Pinocchios would you give that car salesman? Maybe in your world caveat emptor washes away all lies.

        1. Rick Stryker


          I am saying that by the fact checker’s own scale Walker doesn’t deserve 3 pinocchios. It’s either 1 or 2. The standard for 1 is

          “Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions and exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods. (You could view this as “mostly true.”)”

          And for 2 pinocchios, the standard is

          “Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people.”

          Based on the evidence of the article, I think he qualifies for 1 pinocchio. The only point the author makes which I think has some weight is the “fixed effects” argument that Menzie often makes and which the author is repeating. But every politician in the world will take credit for anything good and will not talk about evidence that his performance is nothing special. That’s why I think 1 pinocchio should have been the correct grade.

          The author of the article makes a big deal about the 250K promise but that seems to me the weakest part of the article. She seems to think that Walker should not be characterizing his 250K promise as a big, bold goal, as if that is somehow dishonest. But that’s how the public sees it. Walker was pummulled mercilessly on the 250K during the Wisconsin governors race but won big anyway. Why didn’t the voters hold him responsible if his 250K promise was so dishonest?

          The voters are smart enough not to take a promise like that seriously but rather see it as a statement of intention and a signal about goals. The voters distinguish promises that are aspirational that give them something that don’t now have from promises which guarantee that something won’t be taken away. The President promised that his health care reform would lower premiums of the typical American family as much as $2500 per year by the end of his first term. When that didn’t happen, the voters did not hold the President accountable, since they understand that is an aspirational, signalling type of promise. On the other hand, when the President promised that “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” and that didn’t happen, the voters did hold him responsible and the Administration was forced to make changes in the ACA on the fly. Similarly, the first President Bush got killed for making the “read my lips” promise and then going back on it.

          These fact-checking articles are silly because they don’t appreciate these nuances. Whether a promise is truly deceptive depends on the context. Voters understand that all politicians make promises that they aren’t going to keep. However, if the politicians make promises that voters really rely on, so that they are truly deceptive, then the voters will punish the politicians without the fact-checker’s help.

          1. Bellanson

            You said: “Walker was pummulled mercilessly on the 250K during the Wisconsin governors race but won big anyway..”,

            I get it: If you win an election by lying, then lies you told aren’t lies anymore
            Got it!

            And a journalist who points out lies told by politicians are “dishonest” and biased since the voters fell for those lies and elected him.
            It’s inherently biased to point out fraud if the fraud was successful, only unsuccessful fraud can be prosecuted.

            Got it!

  2. Bruce Hall

    Menzie, I don’t understand the second chart at all. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is 4.6% while the U.S. unemployment rate is 5.1%. You and I communicated about this earlier and your position (which I understand) is that Wisconsin historically has averaged about 0.8pp lower than the U.S. Is this chart representing unemployment rates adjusted for this historical difference? It certainly is not unadjusted rates.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Bruce Hall: As shown in the legend in the figure, it is the Wisconsin unemployment rate minus US unemployment rate, in raw form. The fact that the blue line is below the zero line most of the time means that most of the time, the Wisconsin unemployment rate is less than the US rate. Since July’s figure is -0.7, and the average is -0.8, then Wisconsin is currently “underperforming” — although clearly not statistically significantly so.

      I’m not sure what else to add.

  3. Dave Backus @ NYU

    Menzie, You have to let this go. Politicians may be idiots, but you’re killing a good blog with this Wisconsin stuff. Best, Dave

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Dave Backus @ NYU: Thanks for the input. This is all background for an article I’m writing on evaluating state-level economic performance using easily obtained state-level macro data (there is a paucity of these types of data, cross-state). I hope you will re-assess once I present those results.

  4. Rick Stryker


    Not “distortions.” I am claiming that these fact checking articles belong on the editorial page of the Washington Post and are essentially dishonest because they pretend to have the veneer of objectivity when in fact they are just making partisan arguments. The author of the article is arguing that Walker acknowledge that he did not fulfill a campaign promise and that he should not be taking credit for an improved employment situation, since it is not clear that the improvement is out of the ordinary. These are the same sorts of arguments Walker’s opponent made in the last governor’s race. This is not fact checking.

    After making these partisan arguments, the author awards Walker 3 pinocchios. Ok, what are the significant factual errors the author identified to qualify for 3 pinocchios? What are the obvious contradictions that are necessary for the 3 pinocchios.

    The author of this article believes that Walker is somehow obligated to make his opponents arguments for them, saying:

    “This shift in rhetoric is important. Anyone who followed Walker’s campaign for governor will remember his “250,000” jobs promise. Now, on the campaign trail, Walker instead focuses on the decreased unemployment rate and increased labor participation rate compared to the national level.”

    Oh really. So Walker is supposed to remind his audience that he made a campaign promise? Well if that’s the standard for avoiding 3 pinnochios, lets demand that the President, whenever he is touting the benefits of Obamacare, also remind his audience that he promised to lower the health insurance premiums by $2500 per year for US families by the end of his first term in office and that he promised that Obamacare won’t threaten people’s current coverage since “if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.”

    1. Dr. Morbius

      This was not just a run of the mill off the cuff campaign promise. In February, 2010 Walker released a statement that said essentially that when he was elected the 250,000 jobs was a sure thing (http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/promises/walk-o-meter/promise/526/create-250000-new-jobs/) In addition in December 2010
      Walker when on further to state that he wished he could “tattoo “250,000 jobs” onto the foreheads of his cabinet (http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/114392534.html).

      No Walker doesn’t need to remind anyone of his quite lengthy list of failures, but the press most certainly can do so.

      1. Rick Stryker

        Dr. Morbius,

        If you think Walker’s job promise is somehow different in character from the President’s promise to save the typical family $2500 in health care premiums per year, then you should take a trip down memory lane and watch this video.

        Also, please see my reply to 2slugbaits.

    2. 2slugbaits

      Rick Stryker That’s an impressive display of mental gymnastics. They should put your picture on the Wheaties box. As to Obama’s promises, I think there’s a difference between saying “up to $2500” and “at least $2500”. Obama said the former; Walker said something like the latter. In any event, I don’t know about you, but my health insurance premiums have been flat ever since Obamacare kicked in, so I’ve definitely saved a lot of money under Obamacare. And Obamacare did not force people to change doctors; it was peoples’ health insurance companies that did that. If the voters are smart…and I have serious doubts about that, the presumably they are smart enough to know that Obamacare was about the relationship between people and their insurance companies, not between people and their doctors. If people were confused about that, then I blame the Tea Party morons who apparently didn’t understand the differences between Obamacare, single payer and single provider. And some politicians (viz., Sen. Grassley) bragged about how they got away with lying about Obamacare.

      I don’t know if voters based their ballot box decisions on Walker’s promises or not. My guess is probably not. I’d say his voters were more impressed by the lies he was telling regarding his battle with the unions. So perhaps the WaPo fact checker was wrong in attributing too much to Walker’s lies; but that speaks to the idiocy of the voters, not Walker’s truthfulness. And apparently you would be quite sympathetic to the car salesman that lied to you about the expected mileage of that car you just bought. If you’re that tolerant of lies, then you will probably win every teenager’s parent of the year award.

      1. Rick Stryker


        No, the President said “up to $2500” but he also said “an average of $2500” and “$2500.” You can see that in this video montage.

        Moreover, you really can’t explain away “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” promise by saying it’s the insurance companies’ fault. The President could have kept his promise but he allowed HHS to write Obamacare implementation regulations in a way that guaranteed that most people in the individual insurance market would lose the plans they have. The technical issue was how to interpret the grandfathering provision in Obamacare. The ACA allowed existing plans to be grandfathered, i.e., not have to satisfy the new ACA requirements, if they didn’t change too much, a necessary provision since insurance plans change all the time. The HHS regulations defined a low bar for changes and so most plans would not be grandfathered. Once the new regulations came out, the insurance companies had to send cancellation notices out, which produced all the outrage.

  5. Joseph

    Rick Stryker: ” insurance plans change all the time”

    That is not Obama’s fault. People’s plans have always been at the whims of employers and insurers. These are annual contracts and insurers change the terms nearly every year.

    “The ACA allowed existing plans to be grandfathered, i.e., not have to satisfy the new ACA requirements, if they didn’t change too much.”

    So if insurers chose to change their plans, the insured would no longer have the same plan? Duh, yeah. Do you even listen to yourself talk?

    If insurers did not change their plans, then people could keep the same plan. If insurers change the plan, then people do not have the same plan. That’s a pretty trivial statement that has nothing to do with Obamacare.

    Obamacare simply said that if insurance companies wanted to offer new, different plans, they must be compliant plans. If they wanted to keep the old plans, they could continue offer that plan to those existing customers.

    1. Rick Stryker

      No Joseph. You are just mindlessly repeating the Administration rationalization that they they meant that you could keep your plan if it did not change. They never came up with that explanation until after the outrage started and nobody believed it when they said it, except for unthinking, true believer progressives like you. When the President said “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” no one understood that to mean only if the plan did not change at all. People naturally understand that plans change–sometimes the price goes up, sometimes some benefits are added or subtracted, sometimes the network of doctors changes. But people thought that the President’s promise meant that the plan they currently have would still be offered–albeit changed somewhat–and you’d still be able to sign up on the plan for another year.

      To make that possible, the ACA introduced a grandfathering provision that said that as long as the plan didn’t change too much, it did not have to meet the new requirements of the ACA and could continue to be offered. But the Democrats in Congress left it to the discretion of the Administration to define what “too much” is.

      If the Administration had wanted to keep its promise, it could have interpreted that grandfather provision very broadly. It could have used the studies at its disposal to see what are typical variations in employer offered plans. And it could have used its studies to estimate the turnover rate of individual plans. Given that data, it could have defined “too much” to be outside of the typical change variation. Had it done that, it would have kept its promise largely and the majority of currently existing plans would have continued to be offered without having to be cancelled.

      But the Administration did not do that. Instead, the Administration interpreted the grandfathering provision narrowly. And they knew what they were doing. The HHS issued the regulations in the June 7, 2010 Federal Register. If you care to look on pages 34550-553, you’ll see that HHS used the studies at its disposal to predict the percentage of people who would lose their old insurance under the new HHS regs. It knew that a substantial percentage of people would have their plans cancelled under the new regs, but it did it anyway.

      This was not some obscure rule that no one noticed. People noticed. In fact, Republicans in the Senate introduced S.J. Res 39 to disapprove of the HHS rule. The Administration and all Democrats opposed it and it was never implemented.

      The President violated his promise and knew he was doing so. Democrats in Congress also knew and aided and abetted him. They did it because they wanted the ACA to take hold quickly. They feared that if they had a market with a lot of traditional plans coexisting with the new ACA plans, the ACA plans would not compare well. They were also concerned about the demographics of not having enough people in ACA plans. So they lied to the voters. Democrats own this. Just remember that when talking about Walker.

  6. baffling

    “which produced all the outrage.”
    most of the outrage was by people like you, who were unaffected by obamacare to begin with. but anti-obama in general. why are you so critical of obama comments, but take a decidedly passe approach to walker comments?

  7. Rick Stryker


    No, you didn’t get.

    You are babbling incoherently. What is the lie you are talking about? That Walker didn’t achieve 250K jobs was widely publicized in Wisconsin during the 2014 gubernatorial race. The voters knew it. But they disregarded it and Walker won big. What was Walker lying about during the 2014 race that fooled everyone?

  8. PeakTrader

    It’s better to allow the market to work, than have politicians-lawyers living in Ivory Towers micromanaging something they don’t understand, to reduce prices and raise quantity.

    They should work on creating a (private and public) safety net, from the market’s efficiency gains, than picking winners and losers that results in a net loss to society.

    I’m sure, a committee of economists would’ve done a much better job.

  9. rtd

    I almost wish Walker would win the GOP nomination & presidency just to piss off Menzie. But, maybe not as that would give Menzie even more fuel for posts….. he’s already crowding out JDH.

  10. Joseph

    What’s all the excitement about keeping your plan. You’ve never been able to keep your plan forever. The health insurance market has always had a high rate of change. The typical exployer changed to new plans every 3 to 5 years even before the ACA. Employees themselves switch plans every few years if the employer offers a choice of two or more plans. And people change jobs every few years so have new plans. So changing plans is nothing new.

    As HHS predicted in 2010, most grandfathered plans would gradually fade away after a few years because that is what has always happened to insurance plans — employers change to new plans over time. So in 2011, 56% of employees had grandfathered plans. In 2012, 45% had grandfathered plans. In 2013, 36% had grandfathered plans. In 2014, 33% had grandfathered plans. That’s in line with predictions because that is the way it has always been — employers change to new plans. So I don’t understand all the drama about changing plans. They’ve always changed and they are still changing about the same after the ACA. When you get all excited about the HHS hiding the predicted change in plans, they weren’t hiding anything. They were just projecting the same rate of changes they saw in the past.

    In the individual market, the rate of change is even faster. Before the ACA, only 17% of the insured kept the same plan longer than two years. Almost no one keeps the same plan longer than five years.

    So all this sturm and drang about keeping your plan is silly. The prediction was that people would gradually change to new plans because that is the way it has always been. The small percentage of people who want to keep their old grandfathered plan are able to, but that number is gradually shrinking just as expected.

    Where are all the people complaining that they can’t keep their old plan? There are a vocal few, but everyone else just sees the same market turnover as they always did.

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