Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: State lost 11,700 private-sector jobs in November, agency says

-By John Schmid

December 15, 2011- Wisconsin lost private-sector jobs for the fifth consecutive month in November, the same months that the nation has been adding private-sector jobs, according to a report Thursday from the state Department of Workforce Development.

The state lost an estimated 11,700 private-sector jobs in November from October, the deepest since April 2009, when the nation was in the throes of the recession. The figures are based on a monthly government survey of employers and adjusted to smooth out recurring seasonal factors, such as winter-related slowdowns in construction or holiday hiring by retailers.

The government sector, meanwhile, continued to lose jobs at the city and county level, as it has for much of the past two years. All told, the state lost an estimated 14,600 nonfarm jobs when the losses in the private sector are combined with the losses in the public sector.

The unemployment rate, which the government derives from a separate sample of households, showed an improvement to 7.3% in November from 7.7% in October, mirroring a decrease in the national rate in the same month. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national rate two weeks ago.

Because the unemployment rate and job-creation numbers are derived from separate samples, it has been common during the two-year recovery for the two numbers to move in opposite directions in what economists say is a typical divergence during periods of overall uncertainty in the economy.

Gov. Scott Walker, who took office in January, has promised to create 250,000 private-sector jobs during his first four years in office. That promise has combined with the difficult economy to make the issue closely watched both in the Capitol and around the state.

The last month that the state created private-sector jobs was June, when Walker held a news conference to announce what were then the best job-creation numbers of his administration. Although many of the jobs were in tourism and restaurants, and often seasonal, Walker credited his administration's pro-business policies.

Since then, however, Walker's administration has attributed the subsequent loss of private-sector jobs to turmoil in the national and international economy.

On Thursday, Walker's Secretary of Workforce Development, Reggie Newson, called into question the credibility of the data itself. Newson released a strongly worded statement that confirmed what economists have said for years: The monthly jobs numbers amount to erratic estimates that are extrapolated from relatively small survey samples and prone to revision.

Newson pointed out that the sample size encompasses only about 4% of Wisconsin employers.

"We are required by the federal government to release its preliminary numbers on a monthly basis, even though the numbers can be off by as many as 9,400 jobs," Newson wrote in his statement that accompanied the November jobs report. "These unreliable employment statistics out of Washington misinform the public and create unnecessary anxiety for job seekers and job creators about the shape of our state's economy."

Newson decried the frequent revisions that result. "October was the fifth straight month and the eighth month this year in which the federal government overestimated the preliminary job loss numbers or underestimated job gains for Wisconsin," Newson wrote.

In a telephone interview after the release of the data, Newson said the state's economy is "sturdier" than the latest jobs numbers indicate.


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