Posted tagged ‘Iowa jobs’

Bad math, good math — and Iowa jobs

October 22, 2014

Those 31 points the Iowa Hawkeyes scored last Saturday were something, huh?

It sure feels better when you don’t include Maryland’s 38 points. And that’s the way Governor Branstad counts jobs.

Enough with the bad math, and let’s talk about those Iowa jobs.

The actual job performance of Iowa’s economy is pretty simple to compute from the state’s official spreadsheet, which shows seasonally adjusted, nonfarm jobs, month by month and sector by sector, back to January 2008. You can find that sheet here.

Doing it wrong

As we have pointed out in the past on this blog, the Branstad administration chose to edit the official spreadsheet by adding a special line that only shows increases. No job losses are counted. Ask anyone who’s lost a job whether that sounds reasonable. But when you’ve promised 200,000 jobs in five years, you have to get there somehow.

A snapshot of the key but distorted line is highlighted in the photo at right. Basic RGBThat line, “Gross Over-the-month Employment Gains,” ignores the monthly performance of any job sector showing a decrease. Instead, the increases in the other job sectors each month are added, and the total inserted into the “Gross Gains” total compiled from previous months during the Governor’s current term. Twisting the numbers this way, the Governor has reached 156,500 — almost twice the actual increase since he took office.

In September, the Governor’s math turns a 1,300-increase month into 4,900. A happy result, but false.

Doing it right

The Iowa Policy Project has put out a monthly analysis of state job numbers for 11 years now. And as we point out in our latest Iowa JobWatch, not only is the Governor’s number exaggerated, but there is a better approach that does not tie him to his ambitious and apparently unreachable goal.

If you want to measure progress, you measure everything. And that’s simple: How many jobs were there in the base month, and how many are there in the latest one?

So, for the real math as of September 2014:
— Since the Governor took office in January 2011, Iowa has added 80,000 jobs.
— The pace of job growth in those 44 months has been about 1,800 jobs per month.
— To reach the Governor’s goal of 200,000 by January 2016, the next 16 months would have to show an average monthly increase of 7,500.

More importantly, the best way to look at job growth is to remove the artificial political frame and examine it the way economists would. The Economic Policy Institute came up with a sensible measure, from a relevant starting place: the start of the last recession. Look at the job change from the start of the last recession and compute what would be needed to (1) make up lost jobs and (2) keep up with increased population, which for Iowa is about a 5 percent increase.

In this approach, we can see that as of September 2014:
— Iowa showed a net gain of 31,300 net jobs since December 2007.
— To keep up with population growth, Iowa needed a net gain of 76,800 jobs from the December 2007 level of 1,524,900.
— Iowa has a jobs deficit of 45,500.

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The Governor will do what the Governor wants to do. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the state or its policymakers should take their eye off what’s really happening in our economy.
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Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director

Digging a little deeper on Iowa jobs

January 16, 2013
Colin Gordon

Colin Gordon

Governor Branstad’s claim that Iowa’s economy has created 100,000 jobs in two years is nonsense. We make this case in this morning’s Des Moines Register, pointing out that the Governor’s measure counts (and miscounts at that) only one side of the ledger. The actual jobs record since January 2011 is a net of 18,700 nonfarm jobs.

Here are a couple of graphs to underscore this point. The first traces the trajectory of job creation in Iowa, the West North Central States, the entire Midwest, and the country as a whole. These are plotted with a common starting point: December 2007 (the start of the recession) is set at “100” for each measure, so that each line shows the percentage change in employment over time. The Branstad Administration (since January 2011) is shaded in yellow.

What jumps out here is a simple fact. There is nothing exceptional about the Iowa experience. Our job numbers closely track national and regional trends, although — as with the rest of the West North Central Region — insulation from the housing crash and high commodity prices cushioned us from the full impact of the recession. And the rate at which we are adding jobs (much too slowly) is virtually identical to that of the region and the nation.

Figure 1. Iowa Job Trends Follow Regional and National Trends

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What about the actual job creation record in Iowa? Figure 2 below plots the month-by-month gains (and losses) in nonfarm jobs since December 2007. Again, the period since January 2011 — the focus of the Governor’s claims — is shaded in yellow. Over that 22-month span, we gained jobs in 14 months and lost jobs in the other eight—for a net gain of 18,700 jobs, or about 850 jobs per month. There is nothing exceptional about this. Indeed, in the year preceding the current administration (January 2010 to January 2011) we added about 13,000 nonfarm jobs — over 1,000 per month.

Figure 2. Iowa Jobs Both Gain and Fall Over Last Two Years

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Posted by Colin Gordon, Senior Research Associate

Scrap the political math

January 16, 2013

At the Iowa Policy Project, we are pretty careful about the way we count. The way we use numbers reflects on our credibility as an independent, nonpartisan resource for all Iowans, no matter their political stripe. It is important for our state’s political debates to be fought on a foundation of facts, so that our leaders can better debate the issues on their merits, rather than political spin. That is why we’re here at the Iowa Policy Project.

We also have counted since our earliest days on the work of Colin Gordon, a professor of history at the University of Iowa and IPP’s senior research consultant. Colin is author of our annual State of Working Iowa report — he offered an innovative twist on it this year with interactive graphs that you can try out for yourself at www.stateofworkingiowa.org — and like the rest of us at IPP, he was disturbed to see Iowa job data being distorted in recent days by, of all sources, the Governor’s Office. The Governor in his Condition of the State address Tuesday used an inflated number to tout progress on Iowa jobs. He is choosing to count only jobs gained, not those lost. This is political math, not real math.

Gordon wrote about it today in The Des Moines Register. In the piece, Gordon notes that using the Governor’s approach to math, Iowa could have a $6 billion surplus. “Why not just count the revenues?” he asked. Excerpt:

And, of course, the governor’s political opponents could offer up a number of “gross jobs lost” since January 2011 — a measure (about 56,000 lost jobs) that would be just as impressive, and just as silly. …

In the bigger picture, these job numbers are not even shaped much by state policy, by what governors do or do not do. Jobs are won or lost by national economic conditions. States can try to pirate jobs or investment from other states, but the only sustained impact of state policy is on the quality of state jobs. Higher labor standards and better investments in education are places to make that impact.

Iowa’s leaders can move these discussions forward constructively, but that starts with ending the politicization of basic economic data, as the governor’s staff has done with numbers on job growth.

Posted by Mike Owen


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