Governor Walker: “There are more people working in Wisconsin than at nearly any other point in our history…”

Where are the factcheckers when you need them?

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“There are more people working in Wisconsin than at nearly any other point in our history; state finances are stable; our school students are doing well overall; college tuition is frozen; and property and income taxes are down from 2010,” Walker told lawmakers in a 40-minute speech.

The state budget remains relatively tight — and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said Tuesday that new estimates on tax revenues would leave it still tighter.

“It sounds like the projections are going to be far shorter than what we anticipated, although we don’t know what the number is going to be yet,” Fitzgerald told reporters after the speech. “It’s not going to be the $150, $160 million (surplus for the two-year budget) that we thought we’d be working with.”

A quick glance at BLS statistics does not confirm the Governor’s assertion.


Figure 1: Wisconsin civilian employment (blue) and nonfarm payroll employment (red), in 000’s, seasonally adjusted. Log scale. Source: BLS.

While the nonfarm series in November is 12,000 above 2007M06 levels, this more accurately is an enumeration of jobs rather than employed persons. (And in any case, the November figure is 4,800 below the October levels, the record high.) The civilian employment series, from the household survey, indicates November 2015 employment remains 4,000 below February levels. This series more specifically refers to employment of individuals.

Certainly, taking into account sampling error, one would not be able to say that employment, by either count, is the highest it has ever been. (One month standard deviation of changes in establishment series is 5,488 [1])

Of course, this all sidesteps the fact that Wisconsin employment is less than what would be expected on the basis of historical correlations with national employment.

23 thoughts on “Governor Walker: “There are more people working in Wisconsin than at nearly any other point in our history…”

  1. Jay

    I know economists are notorious for really crappy verbal SAT and GRE scores but you’re telling me there is no difference between “There are more people working in Wisconsin than at any point in our history.” and “There are more people working in Wisconsin than at NEARLY ANY OTHER POINT in our history”?

    Not saying I agree the governor’s statement is even meaningful, just that this time the statement is logically correct and your attempt to disprove it would get you a D- on any logic class exam.

    How about instead find the margin of error. Count all months that are within 2 standard deviations of the current value. Now take that count and divide by the total number of months of data. Me thinks that percent will “nearly” be zero.

    As a bonus feel free to graft the BLS time series on top of normalized tree ring data to extend employment estimates back to the days before European colonialism.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Jay: Thanks for the grammar lesson. That makes it all okay.

      By the way, I did write something about margin of error. It’s in the last para. Don’t think you got there, before you started typing…

      1. Jay

        I read the whole post. I noticed that you didn’t mention that for less than 1% of Wisconsin’s history was employment higher than today. So “nearly” sounds about right.

        I can see you aren’t interested in logos. You must be more of a pathos kind of person.

        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          Jay: If you read the paragraph about sampling error, then why did you mention sampling error again, as if you hadn’t read it? Or did you just want to kvetch? Inquiring minds would like to know.

  2. Sherparick

    The problem for any politician, Democrat or Republican, boasting about this is that given a growing population and economy, one should be able to say this every year, that employment and tax revenues have set a record, except for those years when a recession occurs. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, certain long term decisions made in the 1990s on NAFTA and China’s admission to the WTO decisively undercut high paid manufacturing jobs, particularly in automobiles, auto parts, and machinery and created a certain trajectory in employment. Even so, Governor Walker’s policies have further under cut real medium incomes in Wisconsin and further lowered the trajectory of employment and economic growth if you project out the line from 1999 through 2007 to to 2016. Further, I expect Wisconsin, which is still dependent on manufacturing more than most states, to have a rough economic year with the strong dollar hitting exports and making imports very competitive with domestically produced goods. To which the Republicans will apparently add some more Fiscal austerity if Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald is to be believed. But I am sure they will make it the fault of the “Those People” in Milwaukee, the uppity women who can’t keep their legs closed, and the hippies in Madison.

      1. Sherparick1

        When savers are desperately seeking safe assets, when holding cash works as well as most safe assets, and there is in enough aggregate demand around the world & interest rates on 10 year Treasuries are slipping below 2%, the answer is yes.

  3. Mike V

    Wisconsin state employment to population ratio:

    2008: 66.9%
    2014: 64.5%

    To be fair, this decline in employment to population ratio is part of a broad national trend, and Wisconsin’s 2.4 percentage point decline between is smaller than the overall U.S. decline of 3.2 percentage points over the same period.

  4. Bruce Hall

    Wisconsin has a problem of lack of population growth. A JS article indicated that half of Wisconsin counties lost population in 2014. Milwaukee county grew by 20 people (not a typo). A few counties had some growth.

    The question before the board is: does lack of population growth contribute to lack of job growth or does lack of job growth contribute to lack of population growth (trick question)?

    Want to try another question? Do rising temperatures contribute to increased CO2 or does increased CO2 contribute to rising temperatures? Yeah, another trick question (you can find “evidence” for both answers).

    But the real issue is one of correlation versus causation. Many correlations are not necessarily causative relationships, but rather simply coincidental. Was Obama a victim of Bush’s economic policies leading to runaway federal debt ( or are Obama’s policies and actions the reason that debt as a percent of GDP is rising so fast?

    Economics is such a difficult art.

    1. bjssp

      Not sure if there’s a rule of thumb here. It makes sense, at least to me, that pronounced population growth (or decreases) would have an impact on employment. People needs to be schooled, to shop, and to eat, and this helps employee people. Why don’t we let in a lot of Sryian refugees into Wisconsin and find out through a real life experiment?

      As for Obama, Bush, and the deficit, I’d say that’s the wrong question. To whatever extend the tax cuts (most of which Obama promised to and then did leave intact) contributed to the deficit, I am pretty sure it was overwhelmed by the effect’s the recession. However much you can blame this on Bush, it’s not at all the fault of Obama, which made the attacks, especially during 2009-2012, idiotic.

      1. Anonymous

        “Why don’t we let in a lot of Sryian refugees into Wisconsin and find out through a real life experiment?”

        LOL’ing so hard

          1. Bob

            Agree. Obama’s war against Isis/terror, suck as it may, is far better than his economic policies in the US. Let’s face it, Obama makes Walker look like Keynes on the economic front.

    2. Mark Arnest

      There is nothing tricky at all about your CO2 question: Increased CO2 is both a feedback (caused by higher temperatures) and a forcing (causing higher temperatures). One of the things that makes the current warming so unusual compared to previous interglacials is that in the past, CO2 levels typically rose after warming began, beginning as a feedback and only later acting as a forcing; during this episode of warming. rising CO2 levels preceded the warming, beginning as a forcing. It is just one small piece of evidence that human activity is the cause.

      1. Sherparick1

        Umm, no. During the periods of glaciation CO2 levels gradually rise as chemical weathering is reduced ice covers & a substantial amount the Earth’ rocks, particularly in the Himalayas. Also colder oceans are less able absorb dissolve CO2 & also are covered by pack ice. In fact the growing acidity of the warming oceans as they currently absorb CO2 as carbonic acid is probably as big a problem as the warming planet. This by the way is physics, not statistical climatology.

  5. Joseph

    Steven Kopits: “healthcare spending adds nothing to GDP growth.”

    Here’s a little thought experiment for your (don’t strain yourself). Let’s eliminate all healthcare spending. No more spending on healthcare. What do you think will happen to GDP growth?

    I look forward to your complete list of items in the economy that you decide “add nothing to GDP growth. It should be fascinating.

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