Dear Journal Sentinel editors: Please check your Walker notes | Wis.Community

Dear Journal Sentinel editors: Please check your Walker notes

Truthiness, the made-up term from comedian Stephen Colbert, supposedly is better than actual truth, because it seems truthful and yet doesn't have to be. The latest case in point: The Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Very truthy. Not very informative to casual readers.

First up, on page 2 of the front section, we find Politifact, or as I like to call it, Politifactoid. In its latest recurring "Walk-o-Meter" chart, it again examined progress on Walker's pledge to create 250,000 jobs by the end of his four-year term (assuming, of course, he isn't recalled by voters before then). The paper's latest chart shows this information, culled from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: 


Nothing obviously wrong with the numbers, as re-rendered by the newspaper. Focus on the overall September change in net Wisconsin jobs -- a loss of 900. Park that number in temporary memory and read on. 

Now turn pages deep into the Friday edition's business page, which in a news story gives the greater context that Politifact does not (boldfacing added by me):

Wisconsin shed private-sector jobs for the third consecutive month in September, while employment at government agencies and public schools registered its deepest drop in decades... .

[Private-sector] losses pale in comparison to the estimated loss of 11,500 jobs at city, county and state agencies as well as public schools - which is the deepest single-month decline since at least 1990, which was the first year the government began to collect comparable statistics.

Most of those public-sector job reductions - 8,400 - came at the city and county level while state government lost a little more than 3,000.

Even more stark is the chart that accompanies that story, and which obviates Politifact's more narrowly focused chart as seen above. Politifact simply ignores public-sector jobs in tracking Walker's pledge. Why? While he generally has said he promises to create 250,000 jobs, period, he has on occasion qualified that by saying he means 250,000 private-sector jobs. Because, hey, you know, in the Walkerverse, public employees really aren't doing real work. Or something. But while elected officials can't really create private-sector jobs (only influencing conditions at the margins that might lead to that), they certainly can choose how many public-sector jobs we have. And Walker has chosen to have a lot fewer of them, even fewer than Jim Doyle decided to have before him.

Politifact has adopted wholesale the qualified Walker qualifier, and thus looks merely at job growth or loss in the state's private sector and displays that in a gaudy (if not entirely flattering) graphical chart on page 2. Meanwhile, anyone who digs through the business pages and actually reads text finds out that, as if losing 900 private sector jobs statewide isn't bad enough, we have in just one month lost more than ten times that number in public-sector jobs.

What does that matter to the state economy? A lot. As others have previously noted, Walker's budget cuts including well over a billion dollars in shared revenues to school districts and municipalities, are having a real effect and impact on local economies. Those lost public jobs may save tax dollars, but that savings is more than offset by both the loss of productivity and the loss of local incomes, multiplied in local economies as less money is spent on goods and services.

Worse, many public employees who still retain their jobs are now getting paid significantly less -- often in the double-digit percentage range, resulting in an even further erosion of earning power and dollars spent in local communities.

This is a real crisis. Because the negative effects of paltry job growth in the private sector -- basically, stagnant or worsening since Walker took office -- is being greatly magnified by the losses in public-sector employment. Which are being made in the name of saving tax dollars so citizens have more money in their pockets. Just not the citizens who used to have those eliminated public-sector jobs. Yet, Walker finds hundreds of millions of dollars to give away to business and corporations, and considers giving additional nine-figure sums to under-regulated, private venture capitalists in hopes they will trickle some jobs down among us. If so, how come that sort of giveaway to the fat cats didn't work out in the past? 

Even more instructive: How did America emerge from the Great Depression? The federal government put millions of long-term unemployed people to work in temporary public jobs, building parks and roads and dams and -- eventually -- fighting the good fight against the Axis in World War II. But this time, Obama-driven recovery spending -- which included billions in aids to state and local governments and public schools so that they could keep their workforces intact while the economy had a chance to recover -- has run out quickly. 

Meanwhile, unemployment benefits have expired for millions of Americans and these unfortunates find virtually no public safety net or food security program to fall back upon. Worse, Walker has not only cut services but effectively raised taxes on at-risk working families (although no one in power wants to really pay attention to that unpleasant truth). And so here in Wisconsin as across America, the Great Recession has segued into the Great Contraction, with more and more working and suddenly not-working families falling into the at-risk pool.

All this, as us context-loving types like to remind, is mainly because Republicans in Congress have refused to appropriate significant sums for job stimulus. They want the economy to stay tanked, so they can grab back the White House and the US Senate. To them, your joblessness is nothing other than an investment in their own future.

[Indeed, yesterday, Republicans in the US Senate unanimously rejected a bill separated out from the umbrella Obama job-creation measure that would prevent the firing of up to 300,000 teachers and 100,000 police, firefighters, and other first responders nationwide. More unemployed Americans on the way, thanks to the Grand Old Poobahs.]

What's the Walker ideology suggest in the way of a further state response? The news stories tell us: More public-sector belt-tightening. More cuts to schools. More cuts to programs that provide aids to poor and low income and fixed income citizens, including kids and seniors. More pain. But not more tax effort from the prosperous. 

Context is a bitch, but it's also essential if we're to understand what's going on in this state and this country. Politifact gets its facts right, as is often the case, but those facts are far too often context-free, and don't address meaningful issues -- as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's very own news columns once again demonstrate. 


October 21, 2011 - 10:21am