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Dueling job figure proclamations lack context, details of the full story

Monday, January 29, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Republican Gov. Matt Blunt proclaims Missouri is "strong, prosperous and vibrant."

Among his key evidence: Missouri gained more than 53,000 jobs since he became governor in January 2005.

But Blunt's figure lacks context and does not reveal the full story.

Now consider Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon. As Blunt preached prosperity last week in his State of the State address, Nixon grieved over economic gloom.

Among his key evidence: Missouri's job growth rate ranks 46th in the nation.

But Nixon's statistic uses a different context and also does not reveal the full story.

What is the rest of the story?

What Blunt does not say is that while Missouri has gained jobs during his tenure, so has every other state besides hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and Michigan, hit hard by auto manufacturing layoffs.

Blunt also fails to mention that while Missouri gained 53,500 jobs from January 2005 through December 2006, that still places the state's growth rate in the bottom third of the nation.

Missouri's 2 percent job growth rate ranks 36th during that time, according to an Associated Press analysis of employment figures from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The growth rate can provide a more accurate gauge than the sheer number of new jobs, because it accounts for differences in state populations.

All in the timing

What Nixon does not say is what time period he uses to assert that Missouri ranks 46th in job growth.

The Missouri Democratic Party said Nixon's figures were based on employment changes from January to November 2006, during which Missouri's job growth actually ranked 47th. Democratic spokesman Jack Cardetti said Nixon had prerecorded his televised response to Blunt's speech before the December employment figures came out. With the last month of the year included, Missouri's 2006 job growth would rank 44th nationally.

Enter the rhetoric:

* Blunt: "The days of economic uncertainty are in the past. Now we have reason for renewed optimism, reason to stand strong with hope for the future. Opportunities are increasing, and Missouri families have a better quality of life."

* Nixon: "These facts and figures are simply another way of saying what most of you already know -- you are working harder, but you are not getting any further ahead. Governor Blunt is leading us in the wrong direction."

For some perspective, it might be helpful to refer to 2002.

That was the year when it was believed Missouri led the nation in its sheer number of lost jobs -- down 77,700 from January 2002 to January 2003.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry made a big deal about the decline -- producing charts, maps and press releases and highlighting the dismal figure at a capital news conference as a call to action for a pro-business agenda.

The governor, at the time, was Democrat Bob Holden. But Republicans were fresh in charge of the Legislature, and the jobs debacle became their rallying cry for change.

But the numbers proved faulty.

As it typically does, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics revised its figures retroactively as the passage of time provided more accurate information.

It turns out Missouri lost 21,000 jobs in 2002, ranking it 39th in the nation. Neighboring Illinois, thought to have lost just 14,000 jobs at the time of Missouri's worst-in-the-nation outcry, ended up losing 66,500 under the recalculation, making it last in the nation.

On a percentage basis, Missouri's job-loss rate actually was better in 2002 than neighboring Illinois, Oklahoma or Kansas and about the same as Iowa's.

When Blunt ran for governor in 2004, he made much ado of Missouri's poor job climate. At that time, it was thought Missouri's 2002 job losses were 10th worst nationally. In his 63-page campaign platform, Blunt wrote "it is staggering to think that 40 other states did better than Missouri at protecting and preserving jobs."

"These job loss statistics are disheartening, but the reality is heartbreaking because a jobs crisis is really a family crisis," Blunt wrote. "The impact is real and the results are devastating."

Job-related issues

Since taking office, Blunt and the Republican-led legislature have enacted numerous pro-business bills intended to create jobs -- most prominently, new limits on injury lawsuits and workers compensation claims, and new tax incentives for businesses that create jobs with decent paychecks and health care benefits.

What has been the result?

Missouri's job market has moved up from 43rd nationally in the much-lambasted year of 2002 to 36th during Blunt's two years in office -- or moved down to 44th nationally when considering 2006 alone.

So Missouri's employment has either improved somewhat or worsened slightly, depending on one's choice of figures and political preference.

As the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes would say: This, too, is meaningless.

Just ask Ray McCarty, the former Chamber of Commerce official who trumpeted the original 2002 job-loss figures.

Now, "when I see those headlines on new jobs created or jobs lost, I just kind of ignore them," McCarty said, "because the data's really unreliable."


EDITOR'S NOTE: Capitol Correspondent David A. Lieb covers Missouri government and politics for The Associated Press.


A CLOSER LOOK

When Republican Matt Blunt campaigned for governor in 2004, he was critical of the state's poor employment figures in 2002. In his State of the State address last week, Gov. Blunt cited what he described as improved employment figures during his tenure, from January 2005 through December 2006. Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon, by contrast, cited what he considered to be poor employment figures in 2006. Here are some comparisons.

Missouri 2002

* Job Loss: 21,000

* Numbers rank: 39th

* Job Decline Rate: 0.8 percent

* Percentage rank: 43rd

Missouri 2006

* Job Gain: 15,700

* Numbers Rank: 31st

* Job Growth Rate: 0.6 percent

* Percentage Rank: 44th

Missouri 2005-2006

* Job Gain: 53,500

* Numbers Rank: 23rd

* Job Growth Rate: 2 percent

* Percentage Rank: 36th

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The 2002 figures are from January 2002 to January 2003. Figures for January 2007 are not available, so the other calculations run through December 2006.


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