Sunday, August 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

PA parties know how to spin numbers

The latest job numbers, which look good for the state, are taken out for a spin by both political parties.

PA parties know how to spin numbers

Of all the oft-confusing, sometimes-conflicting numbers used to measure the state and national economy, the most reliable seems to be the monthly unemployment rate.

It's up, it's down and for states it's more or less than the national rate, pretty simple and straightforward.

Ah, but then the political parties weigh in with efforts to weigh the numbers in whatever context best helps their argument that an incumbent, any incumbent, is winning or losing the fight to drive his or her state's economy.

So after the feds last Friday released job numbers for May, the political parties in PA took them out for a spin.

First came official word from the state Department of Labor and Industry that the new numbers show PA's unemployment rate dropped below the national rate to 7.5 percent, the lowest since March 2009.

Good news for Gov. Corbett, right?

Well, then came a statement from the state Democratic Party that the new numbers also show PA is 46th in job growth and actually lost 9,200 jobs -- the largest loss of any state.

Bad news for Corbett, right?

Ah, but then came a statement from the state Republican Party, "A Win for PA," claiming the state "added more jobs (24,000) in May than in any month since 1983."

So how can a state's unemployment rate drop as it loses jobs and its job growth wallows? And how can a state lose jobs and gain jobs at the same time?

Numbers are numbers. The job growth rate cited by Democrats is a monthly snapshot stat offered by Arizona State University that Republicans challenge as too narrow to truly measure a state's long-term growth.

And, to add to the confusion, both parties are able to cite sources for their numbers.

The Republicans cite this report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on job gains.

The Democratis cite this report in USA Today on the loss of jobs.

Who's right? Well, if you have a job you probably think Republicans are right. If you don't have a job you probably think Democrats are right.

I think, in a state with 5.8 million jobs, there are ways to massage numbers to get any spin you like.

Either that or the Post-Gazette is wrong or USA Today is wrong or their both right or the truth lies somewhere in between.

About the only thing clear is that job numbers are up for spin; and both parties are willing to play.

Looking at all the numbers all the time can hypnotize you into believing what you want to believe. Which is why the unemployment rate is the best the number to watch.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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