The Curious Case of New Jersey Job Numbers

Jim Geraghty wonders how the state of New Jersey can so consistently produce a rosy assessment of the state’s unemployment situation, only to be forced to correct themselves later:

As noted for much of the year, the Garden State’s economy is in rough, rough shape, with unemployment high and climbing. But the state has found some surprisingly good data on private-sector job creation, and those numbers were the centerpiece of campaign ads by incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine, particularly July’s estimate of 13,000 new private-sector jobs.

And then, a month later, the state said, “Whoops, private-sector employment didn’t increase by 13,000 jobs, it increased by 5,600,” a fairly significant revision. That prompted me to look back to the previous releases, where I found that the intial number was revised downward in June, and May, and April, some months by a few hundred, one month by as much as 4,300…

The fact that the state is four-for-four in the initial numbers making the job-creation environment look a little better than it is — giving Corzine just enough to claim he’s “creating jobs” in commercials — adds a very interesting wrinkle to this Star-Ledger story:

In the midst of a tough re-election campaign focusing on his stewardship of the economy, Gov. Jon Corzine’s office recently instructed his cabinet officers to orchestrate events showcasing job creation.

In an Oct. 5 e-mail obtained by The Star-Ledger, Corzine deputy chief of staff Mark Matzen asked the commissioners of several departments to “come up with an event or two or three that show job creation or economic development in the private sector.” The events, planned for this week, would “get our message out” that “the economic policies of Governor Corzine are working,” in part by generating “stories in weekly as well as daily newspapers,” Matzen wrote.

“I know that it might be a stretch for some of you, but please be creative,” the e-mail states. “While many programs might not created (sic) jobs directly, they do have some connection to job creation either through training, giving money to sustain employment or create demand for workers.”

When a state agency consistently makes mistakes in the governor’s favor, on the central issue of the campaign, it’s worth looking at twice. And when you have the governor’s senior staff both admitting that there are no new jobs to tout, and encouraging political operatives in state agencies to be ‘creative,’ it prompts questions about whether the state is cooking the books.

Indeed, if the initial numbers are suspect, why would anyone rely on the revised numbers? Corzine would have us believe that while the nation is hemorrhaging jobs, New Jersey is mostly breaking even.

Is that a credible claim?