Monday, March 14, 2016

Scott Walker's "Labor Participation Rate" claims are nothing to brag about

When job numbers go bad, Walker relies on labor participation rate to make himself look better -- but that's not all that great, either

The latest “gold standard” private sector jobs report for Wisconsin showed that we are experiencing a slowdown under Scott Walker’s watch. What’s more, our ranking among the rest of the nation is dismal -- we are 40th out of 50 in job creation since September 2011.

Ordinarily when one jobs report shows trouble, the Walker administration switches gears and goes with a different jobs report. But even the monthly jobs reports are showing a trend in the wrong direction: January was the third straight month of private sector job losses for the state.

From the Cap Times:
Since October, Wisconsin has lost 4,600 private sector jobs in figures compiled as part of the Current Employment Statistics program, which samples a small number of employers.
So what’s a governor to do when both types of jobs reports show negative numbers? Why, tout the labor participation rate, of course!

And that’s precisely what Walker’s Department of Workforce Development did. In fact, the title of the most recent monthly jobs report release is “State Labor Force Participation Rate Grows in January” (PDF).
Wisconsin's January 2016 Labor Force Participation Rate increased to 68.4% and was 5.7 percentage points higher than the national rate of 62.7% during the month.
That seems like a braggable line to shout from the rooftops, especially when private sector job growth is posting depressing numbers in dual reports. But the claim from the DWD lacks context -- things aren’t as rosy as Walker & Co. are saying they are.

Though the claim makes it seem like it’s a huge miracle, Wisconsin has always been better than the nation when it comes to labor participation rate. “Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate was higher than the national average even before Walker became governor,” the Washington Post stated last fall (as Walker was running for president at that time and was bragging about the rate then also).

Before the Great Recession, in December of 2007 Wisconsin’s labor participation rate was about 70.5 percent, above the national rate of 66 percent. And in December of 2010, one month before Walker took office, the state’s labor rate was at 69.1 percent (64.3 percent nationally). In other words, we have yet to bring the state back up to its previous pre-recession, or even pre-Walker levels.

And how does Wisconsin’s rate compare to Minnesota? Our neighbor to the northwest is posting a labor participation rate of 70.5 percent. But you won’t find that in any of Walker’s talking points.

Emphasizing our labor participation rate is a favorite line of Gov. Walker’s, but it’s meaningless without understanding the context behind it. And when you delve into that context, it’s obvious that the bragging the governor does is depressingly unwarranted.


  1. Does anyone know where Wisconsin is in job growth in completing Walkers promise to create 250,000 jobs in his first term?

    According to Walker himself, that was not the ceiling, that was the floor!

    How many terms as governor will Wisconsin need to endure of Walker to actually get to the 250,000 floor of jobs created?

    Some people may not live that long.

    1. I calculated that out once, Greg. At our current rate, we'll reach 250,000 jobs around November 2018...when the next gubernatorial election is.