Now that Governor Branstad has left office, the latest (and preliminary) job numbers are in, and they effectively close the books on the goal. We did not come close. Through six years and four months, Iowa jobs stood little over halfway to the five-year goal.
Or: How Governor Branstad claimed to reach his jobs goal but did not come close
As it all turned out, the job-growth goal set by former Governor Terry Branstad was at best ambitious, and never realistic.
With four previous terms behind him, and 12 years out of office, Branstad came back in 2010 with a goal of 200,000 new jobs in five years.
Nothing wrong with setting lofty goals. The biggest problem with this one was the way the longtime Governor decided to measure progress toward it. If the goal was never realistic, the counting method was never math.
Iowa’s economy produced 106,900 new jobs — the net job increase — through the Governor’s second round in office.
As late as April, the last jobs report released in Governor Branstad’s tenure, the official report from Iowa Workforce Development bore an extra line, ordered by someone, for “Gross Over-the-month Employment Gains,” from January 2011. And that line would, magically, put the state over the 200,000 mark — a year late, but more on that later.
There was no explanation with the report on how this special line was computed, but analysis showed the administration cherry-picked job gains to come up with the “gross” figure. Job categories that showed a loss in a given month were simply ignored.
It was as if a business reported its sales but not its expenses, or a football team counted its own touchdowns but not those it gave up. The number, then, was literally meaningless as an indicator of anything happening in the economy.
Last week, IWD released
its first report on monthly job numbers since Governor Kim Reynolds took office, and the “gross” gains line was gone from the official spreadsheet.
So, for the sake at least of history, a little context:
— Through the five years of the Governor’s goal, Iowa produced 92,100 new jobs.
— Through the end of the Governor’s tenure, Iowa produced 106,900 new jobs.
In fact, we didn’t reach 200,000 under even the Governor’s counting gimmick until January of this year, a year late. Meeting the goal would have required 60 months averaging over 3,300 net new jobs a month. Instead, we have seen far less:
The slow pace of recovery should not have been a surprise to anyone. Iowa and the nation had just come out of a shorter and less severe recession in 2001. The pace of that recovery — up until the Great Recession hit — was quite similar to what we have seen over the past six years before even the latest pace slowed down.
The actual job numbers and what they may illustrate remain more important than Governor Branstad’s spin on them. It would be a mistake to devote undue further attention to the fake numbers.
Likewise, it would be a mistake to attribute any general job trends — positive or negative, even legitimately derived with actual math — principally to state efforts. Much larger forces are at work. Plus, overselling the state role feeds poor policy choices, namely to sell expensive and unaccountable tax breaks, supposedly to create jobs, at the expense of the public services that make a strong business environment possible and make our state one where people want to raise families.
Iowa needs more jobs and better jobs. To understand whether we’re getting them
requires responsible treatment of data, and honest debate with it.
Posted by Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project