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By Dave Umhoefer June 18, 2014

Minnesota tops Wisconsin on average wages by $5,000 a year, Mary Burke says

Democrats ripping jobs gains under Republican Gov. Scott Walker often point to the post-recession progress in Minnesota, where the jobs recovery has outpaced that of Wisconsin.

Walker, meanwhile, prefers comparisons to Illinois and its budget problems and big tax hikes.

In September 2013, we rated Half True a Minnesota lawmaker’s claim that the Gopher State is "kicking butt relative to Wisconsin" on employment, school test scores, workforce education and other rankings.

But we haven’t, until now, tested claims of an income gap.

Gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke proclaimed such a gap in June 6, 2014 remarks to delegates gathered in Lake Delton for the state Democratic Party’s annual convention.

"As you know," Burke said, "our current governor has made quite a name for himself. His divisive brand of politics may have made national headlines, but those policies have hurt middle-class families right here in Wisconsin."

She added: "But the people of Wisconsin, we know Scott Walker. He promised us 250,000 new jobs. But what did we get? We’re 9th out of 10 midwestern states in job growth -- ninth out of 10! And the typical Wisconsin worker makes $5,000 less each year than our neighbors in Minnesota."

Let’s see if Burke’s statement about a Minnesota advantage in the Walker era holds up.

What the numbers show

Burke’s campaign cited one source for numbers on earnings. We looked at it and two others.

All show Minnesota on top.

-- The annual average wage of Minnesota workers was $47,370 as of May 2013 -- $5,060 higher than the $42,310 figure for Wisconsin, according to survey-based estimates published by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2013 data is the most recent available.

-- Average earnings per job in 2012 were $53,928 in Minnesota, $4,931 more than Wisconsin’s $48,997, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data. That figure takes in a larger group -- not only workers’ wages and salaries but "proprietor’s income" from self-employment.

-- The same data, stripped down to exclude proprietor’s income to focus more on regular salaries and wages, shows a gap of $5,757 in Minnesota’s favor, according to research by Dale Knapp at the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

So Burke’s figures are solid.

More about the numbers

In her convention speech, Burke argued in a general way that Walker’s policies are linked to the wage gap.

Given all the factors that influence a state’s economy, experts agree the actions of a governor have a limited effect. Nevertheless, Burke’s claim misses the mark by pinning the gap solely on Walker.

The Minnesota-Wisconsin wage gap dates to at least the 1960s, and gradually has grown despite ups and downs.

When we asked Burke campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki about that, he argued that Walker's economic policies -- which Walker touts as turning the state around -- haven't improved it or closed that gap. As examples, he cited Walker’s refusal to accept the federal expansion of Medicaid and his opposition to a minimum wage increase.

By any of our three measures, the gap did not narrow in Walker’s first two years.

It grew significantly based on the average earnings per job data. It held steady if you use the other two methods.

The average earnings data shows the Minnesota wage advantage averaged 7.4 percent during the second four-year term of Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who preceded Walker. So far under Walker the average is 8.8 percent.

The gap of 9.1 percent in 2012, Walker’s second year, is the highest since 2000, when Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson was in charge.

It’s not that Wisconsin’s average wage has fallen during the Walker era. It’s up 5.5 percent in two years, right around the national average increase.

But Minnesota has fared somewhat better, which creates the increase in the gap.

In combing through the annual average wage data for the two states, there are some interesting disparities between specific jobs.

Minnesota ran up part of its lead on these:


Minnesota average wage

Wisconsin average wage

Registered nurse



Management, all positions



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Police and sheriff patrol officer



Social worker (child/family/school)



School bus driver



Computer systems analyst







Wisconsin holds the upper hand in other categories, including:


Minnesota average wage

Wisconsin average wage

Farm, fishing, forestry



Retail Salesperson



Mortician, undertaker, funeral director









According to a calcuator, the Minneapolis area’s cost of living is 8.5% higher than that of the Milwaukee metro area.

Our rating

Burke told delegates at the state Democratic convention that "the typical Wisconsin worker makes $5,000 less each year than our neighbors in Minnesota" under Walker’s policies.

The gap is real and Burke hit the mark with her description of it. The gap has grown or held steady in Walker’s time depending on the measuring stick used.

Burke didn’t say Walker created the gap, but the disparity is a longstanding one, and one that existed and grew under governors of both political stripes.

We rate her claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Wisconsin Eye, audio of Wisconsin Democratic Party convention speech by Mary Burke (3:36 mark), recorded June 6, 2014

Interview with Dale Knapp, research director, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, June 11, 2014

Interview with Joe Zepecki, spokesperson, June 11, 2014

Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, accessed June 11, 2014

United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, tables on Annual State Personal Income and Employment, accessed June 11, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Truth-O-Meter item, Romney statement on income, Jan. 24, 2012

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Dave Umhoefer

Minnesota tops Wisconsin on average wages by $5,000 a year, Mary Burke says

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