Fact-checking on Kansas economy reveals questionable claims

? Gov. Sam Brownback’s campaign issued a blistering statement Wednesday, labeling as “bold-faced lies” claims made in a TV ad by an independent political group criticizing his performance on the Kansas economy.

But a review of official numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows both sets of claims are questionable.

The ad was sponsored by the Kansas Values Institute, a group chaired by Dan Watkins, of Lawrence, a longtime activist in Democratic politics. It’s leaders also include former Republican Sen. John Vratil, of Leawood, and former Democratic Rep. Jill Quigley, of Lenexa.

“And on jobs, Kansas is losing while other states are growing,” the announcer in the ad says.

The ad cites a July 13 New York Times editorial that said, “Kansas, in fact, was one of only five states to lose employment over the last six months, while the rest of the country was improving.”

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer claims that after a decade of job losses in the 2000s, Kansas has reached record employment levels since Gov. Sam Brownback took office. But figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show otherwise.

The editorial itself cites an earlier editorial in the Kansas City Star which, in turn, cites data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that Kansas lost about 1,600 jobs between November 2013 and May 2014.

The May numbers were preliminary at the time of the Star editorial. They have since been adjusted and show the loss now estimated at about 700 jobs.

John Milburn, spokesman for the Brownback campaign, called that a “lie” because it included both public and private-sector jobs. While total employment may have fallen during that period, he said, private-sector jobs actually grew.

“The size and scope of government are not true indicators of a state’s prosperity or its economic strength,” Milburn said in a response emailed to reporters.

“This year, there have been more Kansans working than ever before in the history of the state,” Milburn said. “Over 55,000 new private sector jobs have been created.”

A review of BLS numbers does show that Kansas has added 55,100 private-sector jobs since Brownback took office in January 2011. But the claim about employment being at an all-time high may be questionable, depending on which source of BLS data is being used.

Milburn provided tables drawn from the bureau’s unemployment statistics, which does show current employment at an all-time high. But numbers from the database on “State and Area Employment, Hours, and Earnings” tell a slightly different story.

Using that source of numbers, both total employment and private-sector employment in Kansas reached their historic peaks in the spring of 2008, before the financial collapse that fall that sparked the Great Recession.

Total employment in Kansas peaked in May 2008 when it stood at 1.397 million jobs. Preliminary numbers for May 2014 — the month that the Brownback campaign cites as the historic high — show 1.384 million jobs in Kansas, or about 13,000 fewer jobs.

In fact, during an entire 17-month period from July 2007 through November 2008, Kansas reported higher total monthly employment figures than it did in May 2014.

In the private sector, Kansas reported 1.129 million jobs in May 2014. But during a seven-month period from January through July 2008, Kansas reported higher private-sector employment, peaking in April when it stood at more than 1.136 million jobs.

The claims about record employment have been repeated throughout the campaign, most recently on Monday when Brownback unveiled his economic agenda for a second term, which he called “Road Map 2.0.”

Speaking in Topeka, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer tried to contrast the job growth under Brownback’s administration with the entire decade of the 2000s.

“Between 2000 and 2010, Kansas lost 27,500 private sector jobs,” Colyer said. “And unfortunately, that was at a time when America was growing at one of its greatest rates in that time period. We were going backwards while the rest of America was moving forward.”

But a thorough look at both state and national job figures shows that statement is misleading.

While it is true that Kansas had a net job loss during the 2000s, so did the rest of the country. But neither the state nor the national losses occurred at a steady rate throughout the decade.

That decade was marked by a national recession in 2001, followed by steady job growth from 2004 until the summer or fall of 2008. Both the state and the nation as a whole saw massive job losses during the Great Recession, but began to regain those jobs starting in 2010.