Governor could fix jobs reporting mish-mash

Said it before, gonna say it again: there is no reason why the jobs numbers in Wisconsin or other states are so unreliable and so dated.`

Wisconsin just got the job creation numbers for the third quarter of 2013 ended Sept. 30. The report showed sluggish job growth relative to other states. That’s major news, but it’s based on data 5½ months old.

` On the positive side, the quarterly numbers are solid, because they are based on a census of 96% of the state’s employers on their jobs numbers for unemployment insurance (UI) purposes. It’s a tax matter, so companies take it seriously and report accurately. It does not have the data pitfalls of a voluntary survey.`

Every company has to file its UI report to the state within 30 days after the end of the quarter. It should take the state’s computerized data collection system no more than a couple of weeks to aggregate the reports, slice and dice the data and spit out an accurate jobs report. That’s what computers do.

Faster processing would supply policy makers, politicos and economists with a timely and reliable report within 45 days of the end of a quarter instead of waiting 165 days. Why is this so important? Job creation is central to the prosperity of a society. Nothing is more important for the prosperity of out citizens. Without sufficient jobs, nothing works very well in a community, a state, a nation.

Thus, people making policy decisions about job creation need straight and timely information to make good policy decisions. Politicians running for office, such as Wisconsin Gov. Walker and challenger Mary Burke, need to be held accountable for real numbers, not dated and jumbled numbers that lend themselves to spin. Candidates and their campaign operatives will still cherry-pick the jobs data that make their best case, but stale numbers lend themselves to distortion.

This may seem an esoteric data issue, but getting the jobs metric right is essential to developing a prosperity strategy that works. As it now stands, Wisconsin is buffeted by four different jobs reports from three state and federal agencies. And their numbers don’t square up. It’s a mish-mash.

The census numbers get batted back and forth between state and federal agencies for adjustments. Those adjustments are what slow the process to a snail’s pace. It used to be three months later until the Walker people moved the reporting up a quarter.

Monthly surveys, with much smaller sample sizes, vary notoriously. The latest, which shows the state’s unemployment rate dropping to 6.1%, reported a government sector job loss of 6200 for January and then a gain of 7900 for February. Just doesn’t make sense. So how can we trust that 6.1% is the right number?

To cut to the chase, Gov. Walker should order the UI jobs report on jobs out within 45 days of the end of a quarter. If the bureaucracies can’t get it done, then contract the work out.

The best answer would be to create a non-partisan, independent Center on Wisconsin Economics that pulls together the UI data and puts out the numbers with a sense of urgency. An independent public-private research entity also would eliminate the proclivity of political appointees to delay, accelerate or “adjust” the data for their own purposes.

If job creation is the biggest issue of the day, let’s get the metrics right.

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