Despite spin, Walker likely stuck with dismal jobs record until Election Day

Anything can happen. Scott Walker might singlehandedly discover a cure for chronic back pain while dispensing well-earned noogies to highly decorated World War II veterans. A random bee sting could swell Mary Burke’s head to the size of a Coors Party Ball, leaving her unable to campaign from August onward. Brett Husley could wake up one day and say, “Hey. Wait a second. I just realized something. I’m completely insane. Maybe I should stop turning this election campaign into an asinine farce. Where are my pants, and how did I end up in the baggage claim carousel at Austin Straubel Airport?”

But whatever happens, an election that was Scott Walker’s to lose looks more and more like it might come down to the wire.

Burke’s showing in the latest Marquette Law School Poll has given Democrats legitimate reason to hope, and the ongoing John Doe mess — whether there’s really anything behind the sturm und drang or not — will likely linger in the voters’ minds until November.

But what Walker really needs to worry about is his tragic jobs record. The latest Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages revealed that Wisconsin slipped to 37th in the nation in private-sector job growth, adding jobs at a 1.2% rate compared to the nation’s 2.1% increase in 2013. And, once again, we also trailed most of our Midwestern neighbors, coming in ahead of only Illinois.

That’s bad news for Walker, but it’s made worse by the fact that he has only one more chance to get this right. The last QCEW report before Election Day will be released in September, and if it doesn’t show improvement, Walker will have a heck of a lot of explaining to do.

Now, to some degree, Walker has hoisted himself by his own petard. During the recall election two years ago, he launched a Hail Mary pass that worked, releasing the preliminary QCEW numbers to show that he was doing a merely poor-to-mediocre job rather than a drunk-chimp-in-his-cage-flinging-Spaghettios-cans-and-poo terrible job, as the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers had suggested.

At the time, Walker — quite rightly — noted that the QCEW numbers were a better measure because they relied on a survey of 96% of state businesses, rather than the small 3.5% sample size the BLS numbers were based on. Back then, I noted that the new numbers — while much better — still didn’t prove much, because Walker had released them early and there was no basis for comparison with other states. Still, Walker’s spin was highly effective, as it allowed him to look less like a halfwit and more like a three-quarters or even thirteen-sixteenths-wit.

But now, with all eyes on the QCEW (thanks in part to Walker’s successful and — to be fair — mostly justified effort to focus on its superior metrics), the governor is forced to spin like a yo-yo in order to make those numbers look somewhat less feeble than they are.

Right on cue, just after the QCEW numbers were released, Walker’s DWD issued a press release (PDF) touting the drop in the state’s unemployment rate to 5.7%, noting that we haven’t seen a rate this low since October 2008. While it’s getting a little tiresome explaining why those numbers have improved so radically since, you know, the economy sank like a lead anchor under Bush-Cheney, it is important to note that the raw unemployment number means little out of context.

As the surname-impaired Jake (of Jake’s Economic TA Funhouse), whom I like to pilfer from on a semi-regular basis, noted in response to a Walker apologist writing at the Wisconsin Research Policy Institute’s website:

As for the low unemployment rate and high participation rate? I have mentioned numerous times, “Scott Walker, you didn’t build that.” Wisconsin was 1.4% below the U.S. unemployment rate when Walker took office in January 2011 (7.7% vs. 9.1% nationwide), so being 0.6% below the US now means the rest of the country is lowering unemployment faster than we are. Same goes for the participation rate, as the Wisconsin DWD notes that the state’s participation rate was 69.0% in 2010, so it’s actually DROPPED under Walker by 1.0%. That 68.0% is also below several other states in the hardworking upper Midwest and Great Plains.

The most relevant measure, then, is how Walker has performed in office, given that he’s navigating our ship at a time when the tides are rising and all boats are enjoying the ride.

Well, the short answer is he’s doing a dreadful job.



First of all, that part about trailing our Midwestern neighbors is mostly a new wrinkle under Walker. As this Wisconsin State Journal chart shows, from 2003 until Walker took office in 2011, we were mostly in the middle of the pack — or even out front — compared to Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan. During Walker’s tenure, we were last two years running before improving to second to last in 2013.

Meanwhile, there’s the little matter of the yawning Walker Jobs Gap — which is something Burke needs to flog from this day forward until it’s ingrained in every last Wisconsinite’s brain.

Scott Walker is fond of hinting that you’re better off now than you were four years ago, and he’s only too happy to take credit for that. The more relevant question is, how much better off could you be? The answer (particularly if you’re unemployed): Much better off.

Indeed, a recent study (PDF) by UW-Oshkosh economics professor Kevin McGee reveals just how terrible Walker has been at creating jobs.

It’s a fairly long read, but the main points are that we’re well behind the nation’s pace of job creation, and if we’d done a reasonable job of keeping up, we’d have tens of thousands more jobs.

A couple of my favorite excerpts from the study:

During the economic downturn, Wisconsin lost 6.4% of its jobs. Only Iowa and Minnesota were less initially impacted by the downturn. Since then however, Wisconsin has only regained 62% of the lost jobs. It had recovered almost 20% of its job losses by the end of the Doyle administration, outpacing the US as a whole and all of its 6 neighboring states. Since then however, it has only recovered an additional 42% of its lost jobs, close to last among its peers, and well below the 66% nationally during that same time period.

And this:

In this paper, I have tried to put Wisconsin’s recent job creation record into context, by comparing to that of its neighbors. The results all lead to a single conclusion: Wisconsin is severely underperforming relative to its neighbors.

Over the last 33 months of jobs data, from Dec. 2010 to September

2013, to just keep up, Wisconsin should have created about 112,000 jobs. It actually created only 82,718 jobs, just 74% of the standard. And after recovering 19.7% (after seasonal adjustment) of its recession job

losses by Dec. 2010, it has since then recovered only an additional 42.3% of its recession job losses, behind the US as a whole (65.7%) and its 6 neighbors as a group (50.4%).

So clearly, if we’re grading on a curve — which is the only grading system that makes sense when your fortunes depend heavily on the ups and downs of the national economy — Walker would be lucky to squeak out a D. That’s a reality the residents of this state need to wake up to, and soon.

Unfortunately for Walker, no amount of crowing over subjective “best for business” rankings or grossly out-of-context unemployment figures will change his jobs record. And barring a September QCEW surprise that vaults Wisconsin to the front of the job-creation pack, Walker’s dismal, nearly four-year track record will leave him vulnerable in November. The only question is, can Mary Burke take advantage?

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