MacIver Institute Ideologues Manage to Turn Lemonade Into Lemons

Lemon faceIn 2010, Governor Scott Walker ran for office on a simple message, that he would turn Wisconsin's economy around and create 250,000 jobs. There was good news for Walker in the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs numbers released April 2013. Although Wisconsin still ranked 44th in the country in terms of job creation, the staggering economy had created 64,500 more jobs since Walker took office than previously known. There was a large upward correction in the BLS jobs data stretching back more than a year that not only impacted Wisconsin, but many states.

Wisconsin's right-wing think tank, the MacIver Institute, immediately found a way to turn this lemonade into lemons, by touting a jobs gain of 137,000, with a banner headline "Gov. Scott Walker More than Halfway to 250,000 Jobs Goal."

How's that?

The Capital Times explains:

MacIver in a press release this week claimed that Wisconsin has added over 137,000 new private sector jobs since Walker took office in January 2011. But economists say that figure was wrongly derived by comparing two separate economic reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The CEW or Census of Employment and Wages figures cited by MacIver are from January 2011 and September 2012, showing a difference of 137,372. But economists say it's inaccurate to compare two different months because the figures are not seasonally adjusted.

In this case, a September CEW employment figure would also include summer seasonal jobs in construction and tourism.

"No legitimate analysis of job growth can be done by comparing two different months of the CEW," says Laura Dresser, an economist at UW-Madison's liberal Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS). "You could compare January to January or September to September but not January to September."

Pants On Fire

PolitiFact "Pants on Fire"The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Politifact group weighed in with its highest award: "Pants on Fire."

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

MacIver started with the wrong month of data. That alone nearly doubled the number of jobs they claim were created under Walker.

They compounded their error by combining full and partial years of data -- even though they (like the governor himself) were told not to do so.

... The claim was retweeted by Madison-based conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna to her 7,114 followers and Milwaukee talker Charlie Sykes posted it on his Right Wisconsin subscription-based website.

What is the Real Number?

So how close is Walker to his pledge to create 250,000 jobs? The Capital Times ran the numbers correctly, and their data count indicates that Wisconsin has 64,500 more jobs in February 2013 than it did in January 2011. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and economists at the UW came in with very similar numbers.

So how close is MacIver to retaining its credibility? Not very. The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy is a Wisconsin-based think tank and a member of the State Policy Network (SPN). The Center for Media and Democracy recently did a report on the $80 million SPN network and its mysterious funding from groups like Donors Trust. MacIver is funded largely by the right-wing Bradley Foundation and in 2011-2012, the MacIver Institute partnered with David Koch's American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) member Americans for Prosperity to produce a $3 million dollar TV "issue ad" campaign and website called "It's Working!" in support of Governor Scott Walker -- far from the typical activity of a legitimate think tank.

The fact is that Wisconsin lags far far behind its neighbors in job growth, a trend that Federal Reserve economists predicted early last year after they took a look at Walker's austerity budget. Recently these same economists produced the following chart which illuminates exactly how poorly Wisconsin is doing. With the Wisconsin legislature and the MacIver Institute obsessed with an ALEC agenda that includes expanding school vouchers and bashing food stamp recipients for not being employed, there is little hope in sight for jobs Wisconsinites are hoping for.

Log coincident indices for WI (blue bold), IL (green), IN (purple), IA (red), MI (orange), MN (olive) and US (black bold) -- (Source: Philadelphia Fed (April 2 release), and Econbrowser)

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is a reporter for the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation and is a two-time recipient of the Sidney Prize for public interest journalism from the Sidney Hillman Foundation.


"Although Wisconsin still ranked 44th in the country in terms of job creation, the staggering economy had created 64,500 more jobs since Walker took office than previously known." That's only true of people who had been comparing the difference in CES numbers between the start of Walker's term and the latest dates. Politifact, for instance, have been taking a different tack for some time: whole-year differences in QCEW data (December 2010 - December 2011 being the only one available at this time) plus the difference in seasonally-adjusted CES since then. Because the CES' anomalous downturn was almost entirely confined to the second half of 2011, change trackers that use as much QCEW as possible have not been impacted much by the revision to the CES data. On another note, the 64,500 figure is almost certainly slightly too high. The reason for this is that the CES seasonal adjustments have recently been rather higher than usual - last December's was 9,600 higher than December 2011's and today's preliminary figures for March have a seasonal adjustment 6,200 greater than last year's. Historically these adjustments are quite stable, just moving one or two thousand this way or that, so the current data are likely to lose that advantage once benchmarked.