How Scott Walker strangled Wisconsin’s jobs recovery

The newest jobs numbers are not the good news for Wisconsin some would have us believe.

The only ‘good news’ is that we’re not falling behind the nation quite as rapidly as we once were. But Wisconsin is still missing out on the national recovery. And our governor’s policies are largely to blame.

Look at the chart that goes with this article. It shows the gap between the rate of job growth in Wisconsin and in the nation. The downward columns, in red, are bad because they mean Wisconsin fell behind the national recovery.

The three columns at the far right show the newest quarterly jobs data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Notice two little steps back up toward the zero line? That’s what the ‘good news’ looks like in the larger context.

Wisconsin is growing jobs at half the national average. If we’d match America’s pace, there’d be 40,000 more employed Wisconsinites

The chart shows that before Scott Walker took office, Wisconsin was growing at the national rate. Since his inauguration, we’ve fallen way behind. The new numbers mean we’re still falling farther behind, just at a slightly slower rate.

Sports-analogy alert: At the end of the first quarter in a football game you trail by 7 points, a touchdown. At the end of quarter two you trail by 14 points, 2 touchdowns. In the third quarter you give up only a field goal, so you trail by 17 points. Are you cheering because you only fell behind by 3 more points instead of 7?

The facts are clear: during Walker’s time in office, Wisconsin has missed out on much of the national economic recovery. But is this the governor’s fault? How could he have so much impact? Couldn’t it be coincidence? Or built-up long-simmering trends?

First, of course we acknowledge that a lot is the result of past decisions by Democrats as well as Republicans and private sector leaders. But here are three examples of how Walker’s policies have thwarted jobs recovery.

One: the train jobs that aren’t. A new rail terminal in Madison and high-speed tracks the federal government wanted to pay for were supposed to open this summer. A factory in Milwaukee was supposed to be busy making railroad cars for the nation. But Walker turned down the feds’ money, Talgo Inc. closed its new car-making factory, and Wisconsin lost good jobs.

Two: the public sector jobs that aren’t. In Walker’s first year in office, 15,500 jobs in state and local government were lost due to his cutbacks. It was the second largest reduction in public sector jobs in the US in 2011, in percentage terms, say BLS data.

Three: the billion-dollar pay cuts. Public sector workers who kept their jobs lost about 8% of their take-home pay. That’s nearly a billion dollars a year in spending lost from local businesses such as hardware stores, dentists and contractors.

From a macroeconomics point of view, all three mechanisms are job killers. You may like Walker’s ideology. But you should also accept the fact that implementing it has come with a very heavy cost.

Walker’s defenders have one last argument: There was no alternative open to him, other than raising taxes. Well, he should have raised taxes some on those who prospered the most over the past decade. It’s what Congress did for the nation, and that hasn’t harmed America’s economy.

Wisconsin needed a stimulus. The governor fed us a sedative instead.

Jack Norman is former research director at the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future. This article appeared in  Donate to IWF’s research fund.

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