Finding closure on the job count

Not only are the actual job increases about half of what the Governor had hoped — but even his own “gross” counting method leaves him short, at 184,000.

For years, we had to watch Governor Branstad’s bogus job count tracked on the official nonfarm jobs spreadsheets provided by Iowa Workforce Development.

Basic RGBYou might remember: The Governor set a goal for 200,000 new jobs in five years. We didn’t come close — 104,500 net new jobs from January 2011 through January 2016. Everyone wants new jobs, but it was clear for a long time the goal was unrealistic.

And it was a distraction for those of us who work with such data carefully, as we do each month in our Iowa JobWatch report.
Nevertheless, the Governor’s people concocted a way to count jobs that no elementary arithmetic teacher would sanction — leave out the job losses. So IWD added a line to the official sheet, for “Gross Over-the-month Employment Gains.” And that way, the Governor claimed, he made it with a couple of months to spare.

In fact, at IWD’s budget hearing in November, the Governor asked IWD Director Beth Townsend to back up her slideshow to bolster the claim with the media present.

A few months later, it looks like we should back up that slideshow once again. The jobs data have now gone through their regular annual review, and the numbers show something different.

Not only are the actual job increases about half of what the Governor had hoped — but even his own “gross” counting method leaves him short, at 184,000.

Yes, we all want more jobs in Iowa, better jobs, more sustained job growth. But we also want the facts treated properly. Is it too much to ask for the Governor or IWD to acknowledge publicly that the “mission accomplished” claims were wrong?

When we see the news release, we’ll be sure to pass it along.
Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project

Different goals for progress on Iowa jobs

Depending on which goal you choose, we’re anywhere from 4,100 to 155,100 from meeting it.

David Osterberg
David Osterberg

The graph below offers one way — actually, four ways — to look at the latest nonfarm job numbers in the context of history and job goals for Iowa.

As of February, we’re 4,100 behind where we were at the start of the recession in December 2007, and 7,200 behind Iowa’s peak nonfarm job level in May 2008.

However, Economic Policy Institute analysis suggests that those historical numbers don’t give an apples-to-apples picture for how well the economy is producing jobs to meet the demand for jobs — that you need to factor in growth in the population. When that is done, Iowa still has 60,900 to go to reach where we were before the recession.

Yet another number to consider is Governor Branstad’s goal of creating 200,000 jobs in five years. Since his term started in January 2011, Iowa has produced a net total of 44,900 jobs, which works out to a pace of 1,800 net new jobs per month. At that pace, the state is well off what is necessary to reach the Governor’s goal — 4,400 per month for the remaining 35 months of the five-year period.

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As we point out in our monthly Iowa JobWatch report, the overall job numbers do not tell the full story about the job climate in our state. One thing those monthly numbers do not disclose is any detail about job quality — whether jobs gained or lost are full-time or part-time jobs, or are permanent or temporary positions, or pay well, or offer health and/or retirement benefits.

For more, see our latest Iowa JobWatch report and also The State of Working Iowa 2012.

Posted by David Osterberg, Executive Director

Scrap the political math

The Governor is using political math, not real math.

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 — 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