KNOW WHAT you need in August ahead of the heart of the gubernatorial race?
Substantive jobs data showing that Tom Corbett and Tom Wolf both fudge numbers.
And, yeah, it's shocking to think that pols use stats solely to their advantage.
And I realize efforts to claw toward the truth of complex issues can lose readers. Plus there are lots of stats.
But here goes.
Let's talk job growth. And although top economists suggest that the best jobs measure is long-term net jobs, let's start with just private-sector growth.
For two reasons.
First, it's what Corbett uses to promote creating "over 150,000" private-sector jobs since taking office in 2011 (which ignores public-sector losses).
Second, the congressional Joint Economic Committee offers each state's percentage of private-sector growth (which puts Pennsylvania growth in context).
The JEC is bicameral and bipartisan (10 D's, 10 R's), has been around since 1946 and includes both Pennsylvania senators: Democrat Bob Casey, Republican Pat Toomey.
What do its data show?
For one thing, they show Pennsylvania's percentage of growth from the national low point in 2010, the year Corbett was elected, through June.
It's 5.9 percent.
This is not particularly good.
There are 35 states with higher percentages, including neighbors Maryland (7.1 percent), Ohio (7.9 percent), Delaware (8.5 percent) and New York (8.7 percent).
So, in context, "over 150,000" private-sector jobs is less a marvel, more a meh.
But, hey, we're not the region's worst.
New Jersey's at 4.4 percent, among America's lowest.
There are many jobs measures, including unemployment rates.
Ours is 5.6 percent. Maryland's is 5.8; Ohio's, 5.5; Delaware's, 6.1; New York's and New Jersey's, both 6.6.
Corbett's camp says the unemployment rate is "a better measure of Gov. Corbett's success," while growth percentage is "imperfect" for comparing states.
But I'd note that among 22 states with lower unemployment rates than Pennsylvania, 17 have higher percentages of private-sector growth.
(For job nerds, the least private-sector growth is in New Mexico, 2.9 percent; the most is in North Dakota, a whopping 32.1 percent.)
Now, let's look at Pennsylvania's broader picture, long-term net jobs.
Current U.S. Labor Department data show that the state has gained 124,800 net jobs since January 2011. "Net" includes public-sector job loss.
For context, some neighboring states and states with similar populations did much better: New York, 669,600 jobs; Ohio, 243,900: Maryland, 177,600; Illinois, 165,100; Georgia, 244,500; Michigan, 230,500.
And among the 10 largest states, including four smaller than Pennsylvania, we have the lowest number of net jobs created since 2011.
Jersey again is last in the region - just 70,500 jobs.
But despite regular assertions from Wolf's camp that we're 49th or 48th or 45th in job creation, the oft-cited W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University says we're now 36th.
At this point in Gov. Ed Rendell's first term (2006), we were 43rd.
States differ in demographics. Just about any state relies on broader economic trends. And Pennsylvania hasn't been a boom state in a long time.
Casey, a former JEC chairman, says a state economy "is always going to be a mix of national and international developments." He adds: "It's difficult to pinpoint one reason" that Pa.'s job creation tends to be anemic, except for a long transition away from coal and heavy manufacturing.
Many metrics are used on jobs data, and selective use can get confusing.
But this much seems clear: Job gains aren't as good as Republican Corbett wants you to think, and the situation (which Democrat Casey calls "long term") isn't as dire as Democrat Wolf wants you to believe.
That's not exciting, or made for TV. But it does claw closer to the truth than either campaign wants to go.