Reports exaggerate projected jobs by up to 30 times above what MSU study said
When is a job not a job? When it’s a job year.
Although it sounds like a riddle told at an economic development convention, it has become a central point of an emerging debate about a ballot initiative that would increase the state’s renewable energy mandate from 10 percent to 25 percent.
At the heart of the controversy is how a study, which was done under a contract between Michigan State University and the Michigan Environmental Council, described how it calculated the amount of jobs the 25 percent mandate would create if passed.
The study said 74,495 “job years” would be created if the mandate was passed. The report states that a job year is full employment for one person for 2,080 hours in a 12-month period. It also states that "operations" and "maintenance" jobs were calculated for the life of a plant, which varied between 20 and 30 years.
That means one job could translate to as many as 30 job years.
However, numerous news sources and advocates for the proposed ballot initiative have inaccurately described the MSU study as saying the ballot initiative would create 74,495 jobs, not job years. This inflates what the study actually said by predicting up to 30 times as many jobs.
The Michigan League of Conservation Voters' Political Director Ryan Werder also incorrectly wrote that the ballot initiative would create 74,000 jobs and not job years.
Saul Anuzis, the former head of the state Republican Party, who supports the ballot initiative, also made reference to jobs and not job years in an email he widely distributed.
Greene and Werder didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.
Anuzis said he was not being paid to promote the ballot initiative. He referred comment about the jobs versus job years to a consulting firm in favor of the ballot initiative.
Douglas Jester, a principal at 5 Lakes Energy, a clean energy and environmental consulting firm in favor of the ballot initiative, said many economic impact studies in the past involved job years but were reported as jobs. He said that was a standard practice and didn't come under scrutiny until the MSU report described in detail the concept of job years.
"They (MSU authors) were being precise about it where other reports have glossed over it," Jester said.
But Michael LaFaive, a fiscal policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the distinction is important.
"We should care because the job years claim may overstate the real impact of this mandate," LaFaive said. "A higher number may convince people that the benefits of the mandate greatly outweigh the costs, when they do not."