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Responding to news that Democrats were recruiting candidates to oppose him in 2014, Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign talked up his record on budgets, taxes and jobs.
"Gov. Walker has balanced a $3.6 billion deficit, cut income taxes and Wisconsin has seen its best two-year job growth in a decade," Walker’s campaign told reporters on July 29, 2013. "We’re confident that all voters want to continue moving forward and have no desire to return to the failed policies of the past."
We heard the same claim by Walker’s campaign in early August.
We’ve previously tested Walker’s deficit and income-tax claims -- the governor accurately claims credit on both -- and many of the Republican governor’s jobs claims while tracking his promise to create 250,000 private-sector jobs by January 2015.
But the "best two-year job growth in a decade" is a new one, and one voters are likely to hear repeatedly as the election nears.
So let’s test it.
Walker is referring to 2011 and 2012, his first two years in office.
To examine the decade, we’ll use the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, a thorough jobs count that economists, state and federal jobs officials and the Walker administration agree is the most accurate source. The figures, based on reports from more than 90% of public and private employers, are gathered by the state, then adjusted and published by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The latest state-by-state figures through 2012 came out in mid-2013, prompting Walker to highlight the state’s improvement from 44th in job-creation to 33rd among the states.
Walker’s new campaign claim isn’t specific to private-sector jobs or all jobs, so we’ll examine both the private world and the broader employment picture, including government jobs, though we note that Walker’s 250,000 promise was for the private side only.
We went back to 2002 to get enough data to measure the changes in the last decade, so the baseline was the final year of Republican Gov. Scott McCallum’s brief tenure. The 2003-2010 figures belong to the era of Walker’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
The most important number is 62,082 -- that’s how many more private-sector jobs existed at the end of December 2012 compared to the end of December 2010 -- the first two years of the Walker era. Walker was sworn in Jan. 3, 2011.
Is it the best two-year period in the last decade?
Wisconsin actually lost ground at times in the decade, most notably in 2008 and 2009 amid the worst effects of the prolonged national downturn dubbed the Great Recession. From the end of 2007 to the end of 2009, the private job tally in Wisconsin fell by a whopping 175,000 -- a drop of 7 percent.
Doyle, we found, can’t claim a better two-year period than Walker’s 62,082 gain in private-sector jobs.
But there is a two-year period that tops that -- December 2009 to December 2011, when the private jobs count jumped by 63,458.
That period encompasses Doyle’s final year in office and Walker’s first, both of which came after the official end of the recession in mid-2009.
The state’s employment turnaround began in 2010, Doyle’s final year, when the count jumped by more than 33,600, mirroring national gains. It has continued under Walker, though at a slightly slower pace in raw numbers. By comparison, the gains in Walker’s first two years were 29,800 and 32,282, respectively.
What about the broader job count, including both the private and public sectors?
We found two earlier periods that top Walker’s two-year mark on the combined total of private and public-sector jobs. The Walker-era total was 53,564. Before the recession, from the end of 2003 to the end of 2005 -- in Doyle’s era -- the job count grew by 58,062. The other total that topped 2011-12 was post-recession, in the Doyle-Walker period of 2010 and 2011.
The bottom line here: Walker’s campaign claim falls short.
In researching this item, we found earlier instances in which Walker made a similar claim, but in more precise and political terms. Example: In May 2013, the spokesman for Walker’s office told the Journal Sentinel: "Today, Wisconsin's private-sector job growth is the best two-year gain under any governor in over a decade."
For this fact check, the Walker campaign pointed us to that same statement, made by the state’s workforce development agency.
But that qualifier -- "any governor" -- makes a difference in the accuracy of the claim. As we’ve said, viewed that way, and looking at private-sector jobs only, Walker’s two years run ahead of any similar period under Doyle. A Journal Sentinel story in May also reached that conclusion.
Voters are likely to hear that more precise claim as well in this election season.
So consider that a bonus fact check.
"Wisconsin has seen its best two-year job growth in a decade," the Walker campaign told reporters in late July and early August.
Not true, we found: Private job growth was higher in 2010-11, in the final year of Doyle and the first year under Walker. And total employment including government jobs rose faster from 2003-05 and 2010-11 than in the two-year Walker period.
We rate his claim False.
Janesville Gazette, "Men, women differ on Walker performance," July 29, 2013
Email exchange with Jonathan Wetzel, Walker campaign spokesman, Aug. 12, 2013
State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, press release, "BLS Actual Jobs Data: Wisconsin Jumps to 31st in Total Job Growth," June 27, 2013
Research help, Peter W. Smith, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aug. 9, 2013
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, table, Wisconsin private-sector job growth, 2000 to 2012.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "New jobs numbers fuel debate over Gov. Walker’s economic record," May 16, 2013
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