New math: Terry Branstad's unique job-counting method

Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform blueprint called for higher academic standards and better methods to assess student skills. I just hope my kids don’t learn to count the way the governor counts jobs created in Iowa.

Creating 200,000 jobs in Iowa was one of Branstad’s key promises as he campaigned for governor in 2010. During that campaign, Branstad also exaggerated how many jobs had been lost in Iowa during Governor Chet Culver’s tenure.

More than a quarter of the way through Branstad’s fifth term, job creation in Iowa is nowhere near the pace needed to meet what the governor’s economic development director has called a “stretch goal.” Click here for charts showing Iowa employment changes by month for the past year and most of the last decade. Between March 2011 and March 2012, Iowa’s economy added either 13,300 jobs or 7,659 jobs, depending on the method used to count them.

Iowa Workforce Development statistics suggest that “Iowa gained 16,500 jobs from December 2010 through March 2012,” Jason Clayworth reported yesterday for the Des Moines Register.

Branstad sees things differently. From his weekly press conference on Monday:

“The good news is we’re well ahead of schedule and the unemployment rate in Iowa is dropping dramatically and the kind of jobs that we’re creating are the kinds we want,” Branstad said. […]

The Branstad administration in the past has used so-called “gross” jobs to validate their job creation goal, which does not take into account the jobs that were lost during the same time. In January, for example, the administration noted that 46,400 jobs were created but that figure did not include the 30,600 jobs that had been lost between January and November of 2011.

The most recent gross numbers were not immediately available through Iowa Workforce Development. Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for the governor, said 69,700 jobs were created since Branstad took office. And the net growth figure is six times faster than the previous 12 years, he said. […]

The gross numbers are, by themselves, problematic, said Peter Fisher, the research director for the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project. Using Branstad’s figures, the state could have a net loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the economy could tank yet he could still claim progress on his job creation goal.

“I can’t think of any justification of just focusing on gross job gains,” Fisher said. ” They are using the numbers that are most favorable but I think it’s a one-sided view of what’s happening to the economy. Obviously what matters to people is whether we have more jobs than we had last month.”

When the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the U.S. employment situation each month, the most important number reflects net gains or losses in total nonfarm payroll employment. For instance, the latest report indicates that across the country, nonfarm payroll employment rose by 115,000 in April 2012. You can come up with a higher “job growth” figure if you add the number of jobs created in each sector and don’t subtract the number of jobs lost in the sectors that shrank during the month. No economist would find that calculation useful, though.

Standard political practice calls for citing net job numbers when talking about “jobs created” in a given month or during a certain period.

If my family started the month with five oranges, bought 12 more oranges at the store and ate 10 of them, I guess Branstad would count us as having gained 12 oranges since May 1. My kindergartner has the math skills to calculate that we have only seven oranges, two more than we had at the beginning of the month.

I expect Branstad to run for a sixth term, claiming he has kept his promise to create 200,000 jobs in Iowa. It will be interesting to see whether political reporters do a better job of fact-checking his campaign message than they did in 2010.

Speaking of which, KCCI-TV utterly failed to report this story accurately yesterday:

Branstad campaigned on the promise of creating 200,000 jobs. According to Iowa Workforce Development, 70,000 have been created during this term.

No, Iowa Workforce Development does not focus on gross jobs created, but way to serve as stenographer, “Iowa’s news leader.”

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart commented by e-mail:

I think the KEY statistic is resident total employment — the number of Iowans working.  This went up only 8,300 between Jan. 2011 and March 2012, suggesting, perhaps, that only HALF of the 16,500 “new” jobs” were “good” jobs contributing to increased family incomes.  The rest? Second and third jobs at minimum wage that people took to keep their heads above water?

During this same time period, the labor force also shrunk by 5,800 people — folks so discouraged they left the state or stopped looking for work.  Their numbers are not included in calculating the unemployment rate.

During the legislative session, Isenhart kept two thermometers on his desk in the Iowa House to monitor progress toward Branstad’s job-creation goal and the governor’s promise to raise family incomes in Iowa by 25 percent.

  • KCCI

    Good post. I’m glad I’m not the only one who caught that on the news last night.  A case of an inexperienced reporter taking pablum at face value from the Branstad spin machine. Sure, report what Branstad has to say about it, but it would’ve been nice to report that he didn’t mention how many jobs were lost and the number.  Takes an extra phone call.  Lazy.

    13 at least has Dave Price, tho he is a favorite of conservatives, covering politics on a regular basis.  To send a person up there on a general assignment basis and no perspective does a disservice to the viewers. She had no clue.

    But-hey-the newspaper that depends on all iowa just shunted off over 400 years worth of experience to “early retirement” and will soon take over space in insurance company cubicles.  Notice the diff in the past couple of weeks, without Hansen, Witosky, Elbert et al?  I have.

    Additionally – did ANYONE ever believe that Branstad was really going to create 200,000 new jobs?  If they did, they were/are nuts.  At least it is going to give whatever Dem steps up (if any) some ammo in a few years.

    Speaking of that, anyone notice the fawning puff piece on Kim Reynolds a few days ago?  Awful.  But it bolsters my theory, based on absolutely nothing, that TB will not serve out his full term, but turn things over in late year 3 or early year 4 to KR, so he will have a hand in making her the first woman governor, and further cementing his Iowa legacy.

    Sorry I went a little off track here….posting here is better than what I must do next – clean bathrooms.  🙂

    • not even a phone call

      A quick internet search brings up the Iowa job creation numbers in less than a minute. You just need the effort.

      I don’t think anyone believed 200,000 jobs would be created, which is why Debi Durham called it a “stretch” goal.

      Branstad’s campaign promises from his previous time as governor didn’t pan out too well.

      My money is still on Branstad running for a sixth term. He seems to be enjoying himself out there.

  • both parties have pulled this bull for years....

    ….and I for one don’t appreciate it from either side.  

    As for “unique”…..hardly.  It has been standard operating procedure from those in charge at the time to report job “gains” like this.

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