Is New Jersey Cooking the Books?

The state’s job-creation numbers seem to come with expiration dates.

By Jim Geraghty
National Review Contributor
October 14, 2009

When an incumbent governor goes before the voters seeking another term, the difference between reelection and defeat often lies in the economy. And while the economy’s performance affects people in many ways — inflation, home prices, gas prices, cost of living — probably few factors weigh more heavily on voters’ minds than the unemployment rate does. If you want a job and can’t find one — or if you feel insecure about the job you do have — your life is usually pretty unhappy, and you begin to suspect that your state is badly managed.

Thus, a governor’s chances for reelection often hinge on what his state’s department of labor finds when it calculates how many citizens are looking for jobs. But what if a state misleads? What if a state government puts out numbers indicating that the state’s unemployment situation is better than it is, and fixes them only later?

Republicans in New Jersey strongly suspect that is the case with their state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, as the department’s recent monthly surveys have followed a pattern of sunny — surprisingly sunny — initial numbers that are revised downward the following month. The revisions began as Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, found himself in a tough reelection battle with Republican Chris Christie, who is hammering the incumbent for failed economic policies.

In August, the state department declared that “employment in New Jersey grew in July, led by a gain of 13,000 jobs at private sector companies.” The state’s numbers showed a decline of only 7,100 public-sector jobs, meaning that as a whole, 5,900 more New Jersey residents were going to work than had gone the previous month. It was great news for the state, and for Corzine, coming in a month when the nation had lost 247,000 jobs overall.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development wasted no time assigning credit for the job growth in its press release:

“New Jersey’s private sector employment is trending in the right direction,” said Labor Commissioner David J. Socolow. “Governor Corzine’s economic recovery initiatives are fostering job creation, and the nation’s recovery program is helping to restore economic confidence. As a result, New Jersey has laid the groundwork for a recovery marked by stronger job growth when the global recession ends.”

But September’s release offered some below-the-fold revisions. New Jersey’s private-sector job gain in July was 5,600 jobs, far short of the initial 13,000 claim; the net result was that 500 fewer New Jerseyans were going to work than the previous month. And while the governor had claimed to be holding a tough line on spending, the total number of jobs in the public sector was revised upward — from 643,300 to 644,300.

There were other oddities in that August release…

The complete article is at National Review.

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