DES MOINES — The pledge was straightforward: 200,000 jobs in five years.
That was one of the promises now-Gov. Terry Branstad made to Iowans in the campaign for his fifth term as the state’s governor.
Now, with Branstad weighing a sixth term and more than halfway through the five-year deadline, two sets of numbers have emerged.
The Branstad administration claims 163,500 jobs have been created since he took office in January 2011. But statewide employment figures show the job count since the governor started his fifth term up about 56,000 jobs.
Both figures come from Iowa Workforce Development. So what gives?
The difference is the Branstad administration is counting gross jobs, meaning all jobs added to the state without taking into account jobs that have been eliminated.
The other figure is net jobs, which includes jobs that have been added and subtracted from Iowa’s economy.
So what’s the right number?
“Net growth is more appropriate than how many new jobs there are,” Iowa State University Economist Peter Orazem said in an email. “Arguing that gross accessions are the appropriate measure suggests that one could just as easily use job destruction as the measure, in which case we would have roughly 160K- 56K = 104K jobs lost.”
Iowa’s unemployment rate of 4.9 percent is about two-thirds of the national rate of 7.3 percent. That’s good news for Branstad, who is expected to run for an unprecedented sixth term for governor.
Critics such as Progress Iowa’s Matt Sinovic hope people also key in on the job statistic, or, more precisely, what they consider the real job statistic.
“This is something we’ve been tracking because we don’t want accounting tricks or dishonest math,” said Sinovic, who filed an open records request for the formula the administration was using to come up with its higher jobs number.
The Workforce Development memo says the formula counts all jobs that are added and doesn’t count any jobs that are lost over the same period. It also notes “this type of calculation also benefits from temp layoffs since those jobs lost temporarily do not get factored into gross job gains, but are counted when the employment returns to work later.”
Sinovic said that shows the problem of using the formula.
“So now we’re going to see a big jump in the November report because of the people who were laid off during the federal government shutdown and then are just returning to work are counted as new jobs? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?” he said. “This gross calculation is not something that’s used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics because it doesn’t give an accurate picture.”
Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the true value of the job number isn’t how it’s calculated: “For the individual who has one of those 163,500 jobs, they are happy they are able to take care of their family and they are working. Ask them if they care if that was calculated as a net job or not. Getting Iowans to work is what Gov. Branstad believes is most important.”
Does it matter?
Chris Larimer, a University of Northern Iowa political science professor, agrees the raw jobs number being used by the Branstad administration isn’t the best figure to use for a political question about whether a governor is doing a good job on the job creation/unemployment front.
Not that it matters.
“Approval data generally shows that when controlling for other factors, Iowans do not punish governors for declining state unemployment rates. I have data from 1976-2011 which shows that the relationship between gubernatorial approval and state unemployment is statistically weak when you control for other factors,” Larimer said.
According to Larimer’s research, in most states, unemployment rates correlate closely with approval ratings, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Iowa. Here, it seems, voters are more concerned with other factors.
“While a governor could take credit for an improving economy, the data show that when controlling for things such as time in office, state partisanship, presidential popularity and federal economic factors, voters generally don’t punish Iowa governors for downturns in state economic conditions,” Larimer said.
Which is a point Orazem made, too.
“As to how much credit does Governor Branstad get (for job creation), it’s really, who knows?” he said. “It’s not that the government created, literally, 56,000 jobs, but I think the government can prevent jobs from occurring if they are not acting to recruit or retain jobs with a business climate that is attractive to expansion and new investment.”