As people often say, there are lies, damned lies, and … statistics.  We deal with jobs-related data on a regular basis, but the collation and promulgation of the final numbers are sometimes a mystery to people.  The Current Employment Survey, for instance, is basically a poll with a fairly large sample, and from that we get most of our demographic information on employment and unemployment, as well as the overall jobless rate.  A separate survey, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, focuses on payrolls and tends to be much more inclusive but give a lot less demographic data.

None of this would be terribly interesting under normal circumstances except to data geeks like myself, but it’s about to become a big issue in the Wisconsin recall:

In an unusual effort to rebut bad news on the jobs front, the Walker administration is speeding up release of new numbers showing job gains rather than job losses in Wisconsin last year.

The numbers come from a source familiar to many economists but one that hasn’t figured until now in the state’s highly politicized jobs debate heading into the June 5 recall election: the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

The new figures, provided to the Journal Sentinel on Tuesday, cover the final three months of 2011.

State officials said they show a gain of 23,321 jobs (public and private) between December 2010 and December 2011, which represents Gov. Scott Walker’s first full year in office.

That stands in sharp contrast to a commonly used and widely reported monthly jobs measure, the Current Employment Survey, which earlier this year showed an estimated loss of 33,900 jobs in Wisconsin for the same 12-month period.

Barrett’s campaign is accusing Walker of cherry-picking data and playing politics by accelerating the publication of the CEW results.  However, the accusation of cherry-picking is nonsense.  The CEW is an actual census of employers in the state, not a survey based on a sample of households.  Businesses in the private sector are required by tax law to share payroll records with federal and state governments, which makes this census much more reliable than the CES. The CES is more useful because it reports on a monthly basis rather than quarterly and includes much more detail on demographics, and while the long-standing survey technique makes it reliable for trend indicators, it would never be as accurate as a census.

Even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel admits this, albeit a few more paragraphs into the story:

The other numbers, from the Quarterly Census, tell a more positive story, one the Walker administration is in a hurry to get out. They are based on a jobs count, not a survey. Each state gathers the quarterly census data from virtually all employers in both the public and private sectors, which are mandated to share staff and wage data as part of their tax and unemployment insurance reports. That makes it a more reliable source of employment data, state officials and many economists say.

As far as playing politics by speeding the release of the numbers, well, that’s an arguable point, with a double edge to it.  Does Barrett really want to argue that voters should be left in the dark on the true status of the economy in Wisconsin when they go to the polls in three weeks?  That’s an odd position to take, although considering his own track record as mayor of Milwaukee, perhaps an understandable one.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin seems to have a crime wave breaking out, as a series of fires in Fox Point all have one thing in common (via Katie Pavlich):

Vandals are torching pro-Walker yard signs, and now homeowners and neighbors are worried the crimes could escalate.

Someone set fire to at least five Walker campaign signs here in Fox Point.

Jamie Schumaker came out of his Fox Point home to get the paper Sunday morning to find his small Governor Walker campaign sign reduced to ashes, a sign he put up just the day before. …

The Fox Point Police Department said they’ve had several complaints of burned Walker signs and in response, they plan to put out extra patrols.

Classy to the end, this recall will be.