Let’s be done with Iowa’s fake job number

No doubt professional staffers at IWD cringe every time that number comes out of the agency. But no doubt the Governor is pleased.

For some time now, the Iowa Policy Project and others have noted a bogus statistic that has been inserted into official jobs data provided by Iowa Workforce Development (IWD).

It just keeps getting better — the fake statistic — because it is designed to work that way.

“Gross Over-the-month Employment Gains” is an extra line that has been added to IWD’s seasonally adjusted, nonfarm jobs spreadsheet, which provides month-by-month data by job sector, back to January 2008.

Basic RGB

Below the standard table of rows and columns is the special line, with numbers reflecting the gains-only count since January 2011, when Governor Branstad took office. Construction up 200 but manufacturing down 400? No problem. Ignore the manufacturing losses and call it a gain of 200. That is exactly how this method treats job counts.

And now there’s a new wrinkle. Previously, IWD only showed what the count looked like for each month, with no overall total. You had to add the numbers yourself.

Beginning with the latest report, the ever-helpful IWD now takes care of that for you, or for whomever would want the meaningless number. With the latest report, IWD makes it a cumulative count.

Our experience with IWD staff is that they are professionals. No doubt they cringe every time that number comes out of the agency — whoever ordered them to compile it.

But no doubt the Governor is pleased. While the number is a total distortion of reality, it shows him close to the pace he would need after three years (120,000) to get to his magic goal of 200,000 jobs in five years. Kind of like winning a basketball game by shutting off the opponent’s side of the scoreboard, but, whatever it takes, right?

So, in case you’re interested, Iowa’s economy has created a net increase of just under 61,000 jobs since the Governor took office — about half of what he’d need to be on pace toward his goal. For a real analysis of Iowa’s job picture, see IPP’s monthly Iowa JobWatch report, or our annual report on The State of Working Iowa.

140318-jobsat36months2Now it’s one thing if the Governor’s campaign wants to peddle silly job numbers under its own letterhead. But it is wrong — flat out wrong — for official data to be presented by IWD with what amounts to a political campaign line for the Governor.

For those of us engaged in nonpartisan research and analysis, the political tainting of IWD reports is a great disappointment. Like us, IWD should be trying to determine and illustrate the actual job picture facing our state, so policy makers can make decisions in that light.

IWD and all state agencies must be neutral players if their mission is to serve all Iowans — not someone’s political agenda.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director

Good signs on jobs horizon?

It is good to see the gap between the national and Iowa unemployment rates begin to close.

Heather Gibney, Research Associate
Heather Gibney

The national unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September — down from 8.1 percent from August. Nonfarm jobs nationally rose by 114,000 with gains in areas like health care, transportation and warehousing.[1]

Iowa’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has been averaging two to three percentage points lower than the national average pretty much all through the Great Recession and recovery. It is good to see this gap beginning to close.

However, in August, the Iowa unemployment rate increased to 5.5 percent, worse than July, but better than a year ago when the rate was at 6.0 percent.  Iowa Workforce Development[2] cites seasonal job losses, effects of drought conditions, a global economic slowdown, and the national uncertainty surrounding taxes and expenditure cuts as factors that are restraining job growth.

We’ll get Iowa’s unemployment data for September later this month. Now that the national unemployment rate is breaking through the 8 percent mark we would hope to see Iowa’s rate fall below 5 percent in the near future.

[1] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf

[2] http://www.iowaworkforce.org/news/XcNewsPlus.asp?cmd=view&articleid=81

Posted by Heather Gibney, Research Associate

Iowa JobWatch: Jobless Rate Dips — Payroll Jobs Improve

The state still remains almost 41,000 jobs behind where it was at the start of the last recession in December 2007. Still, things are looking better.

David Osterberg
David Osterberg

Unemployment Rate 5.4 Percent in January; Job Growth Still Slow in State

IOWA CITY, Iowa (March 13, 2012) — Analysts at the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project noted the unemployment rate dipped to 5.4 percent in January, down from 5.6 percent in December, as payroll jobs also improved by 3,700. IPP, which tracks employment trends in Iowa, released this statement from Executive Director David Osterberg:

Employment over the last year in Iowa is showing good signs, though growth remains very slow. Payroll data showed a net gain of over 9,000 jobs during the year, with about 40 percent of those jobs added in January.

Especially good news was the fact that the state gained nearly 12,000 manufacturing jobs from January 2011 to January 2012. These jobs generally are higher paid and often have benefits. However, the state also lost 4,000 government jobs and 3,200 professional and business services jobs, also generally better paid than jobs in some sectors.

Now that the economy seems to be picking up with the unemployment rate dropping to 5.4 percent, it is time to question the quality of the jobs we are getting back. And it is time to stop shedding jobs in the public sector. That is one area that the governor and legislature have some control over.

The state still remains almost 41,000 jobs behind where it was at the start of the last recession in December 2007. Still, things are looking better.

Key Numbers

— Nonfarm jobs were up in January by 3,700, to 1,484,300, from the revised December estimate.
— Nonfarm jobs are 43,900 behind the May 2008 peak of 1,528,200, and 40,900 behind the level at the start of the last recession in December 2007.                           
— The unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in January, down from 5.6 percent in December and down from 6.1 percent a year earlier.
— The labor force, those working or looking for work, was virtually unchanged (up 100), but slightly down (1,900) over the year.
— Initial unemployment claims were down — by 37 percent, to 19,846 — for the month, and down 6.3 percent over the year.                                    

Key Trends

— Iowa averaged a monthly increase of only 800 jobs, in the last 12 months.
— Nonfarm jobs are above year-ago level for the 16th month in row.
— Manufacturing is the top-gaining job sector over the past 12 months, up 11,800, followed by construction at 3,100 and trade, transportation and utilities at 2,900. Manufacturing led gains for the month at 3,500, with leisure and hospitality up 3,200 and “other” services up 1,600.
— Government jobs declined by 4,000 over the year, and professional and business services fell by 3,200. For the month, education and health services led declines at 2,500, and professional and business services dropped 1,200.


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7 for 7 against 1

With unemployment over 9 percent nationally, the economists’ thoughts are worth noting — particularly with regard to the impact of restrictions on responses to economic downturns.

Mike Owen
Mike Owen

Seven leading economists offer seven reasons that a constitutional balanced budget amendment is one bad idea for the economy.

With unemployment over 9 percent nationally and 6 percent in Iowa, and various proposals for an amendment with severe restrictions being offered — one of them passing the House on Tuesday, July 19 — the economists’ thoughts are worth noting. In summary, they are:

Reason No. 1: It’s bad for economic recovery, requiring spending cuts that would aggravate recessions.
Reason No. 2: Borrowing to invest in the nation’s needs would be banned.
Reason No. 3: Pinched by restrictions, Congress would use gimmicks or shift responsibilities to states, localities and private businesses.
Reason No. 4: Supermajority requirements are undemocratic and are recipes for gridlock.
Reason No. 5: Binding caps on spending limit Congress’ ability to fight recessions.
Reason No. 6: An amendment is not necessary; Congress has the authority to pass balanced budgets.
Reason No. 7: Imposing such restrictions quickly would damage an already-weak recovery.

For more explanation in their own words, see the economists’ letter to the President and party leaders in both houses of Congress.

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director

But what have you done for me lately?

An astounding number of people have no idea what their government does for them — even as they benefit from government programs.

Source: Suzanne Mettler, "Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era," via Sara Robinson, Campaign for America's Future

This NYTimes blog post is interesting enough, but what really caught my attention was a table from a recent academic political science paper that has made its way from liberal bloggers to a former Reagan economic advisor.

An astounding number of people have no idea what their government does for them, even as they benefit from government programs.

 

Posted by Andrew Cannon, Research Associate

Jobs in Iowa: Partly Sunny with Scattered Showers

The labor force grew by 2,900 workers last month. This could be a sign of increased confidence in the market, as more Iowans decide looking for work is a worthwhile endeavor.

Christine Ralston

I cannot wait for the day when The Iowa Policy Project’s monthly JobWatch headline reads unequivocally, “Nonfarm Jobs Increase for 12th Consecutive Month and Unemployment Remains Steady at 3 Percent.”

Alas, the forecast is still a bit mixed: Iowa is certainly making headway in nonfarm jobs numbers, but we continue to see high unemployment rates.

The good news is pretty good. The number of nonfarm jobs in Iowa increased by 7,300 to 1,474,200 in March. This increase is heartening, though we do have a ways to go. Iowa is still down 16,200 jobs compared to last March.

Then there is that other number: the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate edged upward to 6.8 percent, from 6.7 percent in February and well above the 5.5 percent we saw this time last year.  The last time the unemployment rate reached 6.8 percent was July 1986, when the state was recovering from the chronically high unemployment of the early 1980s.

As is usually the case, Iowans are fortunate to be better off in terms of unemployment than the rest of the nation. The national unemployment rate remained steady in March at 9.7 percent.

But there are other clues in these numbers. The labor force grew by 2,900 workers last month and is up by 12,700 over March 2009. This could be a sign of increased confidence in the market, as more Iowans decide looking for work is a worthwhile endeavor.

March marks the third consecutive one-month improvement in nonfarm jobs, and the sixth in the last eight months. Iowa has posted an average gain of 5,100 jobs per month for the last 3 months. We are currently down 54,000 jobs from last decade’s high point (1,528,2000 in November 2007). Continuing this trend would be great… and would start to push us closer to that headline I can’t wait to type.

Posted by Christine Ralston

Despite Job Boost in January, Lower Numbers Than Thought

The new numbers present some reason for hope for job-seekers — but also show Iowa jobs are falling short of demand. An extension of unemployment benefits in this climate would be important, to help struggling families and the economy.

Christine Ralston
Christine Ralston

Iowa nonfarm jobs grew in January, but revised December numbers are far below previous estimates. Nonfarm, or payroll, jobs rose by 4,600 in January to 1,463,400. Though a clear gain, it shows the number of jobs for December was vastly overstated. The January number is 5,400 jobs below the level that had been previously estimated for December.

The unemployment rate showed a slight increase following annual government revisions of employment data, to 6.6 percent from 6.5 percent in December. That December number had previously been reported at 6.6 percent.

The new numbers are the best numbers available, and they do present some reason for hope in what has been a very difficult period for job-seekers.

Over the year, from January to January, we see pretty similar trends to what we’d seen earlier. Iowa lost nearly 40,000 jobs in one year (38,200), and over 40 percent of the loss (16,600) came in manufacturing. These are jobs that traditionally pay better than most and offer health benefits.

It’s always best not to get too swept up in the monthly numbers because they are subject to revision. It’s better to take a step back and view them over time.

What the numbers do illustrate, however, is that Iowa jobs are falling short of demand for work. This yet again emphasizes the need for an extension of unemployment insurance benefits by Congress — both to help families make ends meet when jobs aren’t available and to bolster the economy. Unemployment benefits are spent in local economies, and that helps to create jobs.

Posted by Christine Ralston, Research Associate