Why not speed up job growth reporting?

The most watched economic metric in Wisconsin, other states and the country is job growth. Yet by the time the numbers are reported, they are stale.

Take Wisconsin’s most recent report. It showed a gain of about 24,000 jobs in the trailing 12 months ended June 30. But that’s ancient history. We are midway into the forth quarter. As I have asked before, what took so long?

It’s not inconsequential because the June 30 numbers for job growth were anemic, so they are serving as fuel for the political fires around the issue of job creation. Gov. Walker set a goal of 62,000 per year, or 250,000 over his first year term, so his state is performing at less than half that speed.

The jobs picture gets even messier when monthly unemployment percentages are reported. They are based on a narrow survey and are often subject to later revision.

Meanwhile, many of us in manufacturing have been hiring in recent months, so we are skeptical of the moldy report. The quarterly census, the gold standard in the words on one journalist, showed no growth in our sector. If we had third quarter data, it probably would paint a better picture.

There is a simple fix.
My company, and every other company, is required to report its job total within 30 days after the end of the quarter. So by the end of October, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) had access to the employment numbers for 96% of Wisconsin employers.

It’s all computerized information, so why can’t DWD spit out the quarterly census on jobs in short order? The delay has to do with federal-state interaction on the data, but that’s not an acceptable excuse.

Anyone in management knows that you can’t manage well without good metrics. Four-month-old jobs metrics are not good enough. Our political leaders need to demand and make available the freshest numbers.

In contrast, businesses close their complicated books in three to five working days after the end of a reporting period. Chief financial officers get fired if reports are late.

Even the 30 day requirement for companies to file their unemployment insurance reports could be tightened up. Two weeks ought to be sufficient. Most companies track their head counts on a daily basis.

The goal should be to get the state and national reports out within a month of a quarter’s end.

If job creation is going to be the biggest piece of fat in the political fires of 2014, and they will be, then the numbers should be current.

Fuel was added to the job counting controversy last week when a writer for the New York Post dug up a source who said U.S. Census data gathering for unemployment percentages was faulty prior to the 2012 presidential election. The implication is that the Administration pumped the numbers to make unemployment look not so bad. An investigation will ensue.

Surveys can be manipulated, but that would be hard to do with an actual census of virtually every employer. Especially if the census is timely.

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