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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher March 7, 2014

Democratic challenger Mary Burke says Wisconsin unemployment has increased under Gov. Scott Walker

Even as it became clear that he's not on track to deliver 250,000 jobs by January 2015, Gov. Scott Walker has repeatedly told voters that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has gone down since he took office in January 2011.

News articles have chronicled a gradual decrease in the rate, including a report that it dipped to a five-year low in November 2013.

And yet, with her first TV ad in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Democratic candidate Mary Burke contradicts that notion.

Midway through the ad, unveiled March 5, 2014, the narrator says that "under Walker, unemployment’s up."

Simultaneously, a figure on the screen changes from 4.8 percent to 6.2 percent.

So, under Walker, has unemployment really gone up? And what are the numbers?

What Burke says

The ad starts by touting Burke. It cites Wisconsin jobs at Trek Bicycle Corp., the Burke family business, where Mary Burke worked as an executive years ago. And it states that Wisconsin had 72,000 more jobs when Burke served as state commerce secretary than it does today.

(The 72,000 is an updated version of a claim Burke made in October 2013, which we rated Half True. She was correct on the number -- 84,000 at that time -- but overstated the credit she and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle deserved.)

Then the ad stops talking about Burke and transitions to Walker, citing anti-Burke ads from what it calls "Walker's" Republican Governors Association. Walker is a member of the national association's executive committee and was vice chairman in 2013.

The narrator then says that "under Walker, unemployment’s up." That’s when the figure on the screen spins from 4.8 percent to 6.2 percent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government’s official jobs counter, is footnoted as the source.

The narrator continues the attack on Walker by saying job prospects are down and layoffs continue.

Regarding the unemployment rate claim specifically, Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki told us: "We're not examining it in terms of (Walker’s) time in office overall -- we're comparing it what it was when Burke was commerce secretary."

But that's not what the viewer sees and hears when the ad pivots from praising Burke to attacking Walker. It talks only about Walker; it doesn’t compare him to Burke.

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Moreover, with the narrator’s words presented along with the two percentages on the screen, Burke’s message is that unemployment during Walker’s time as governor has risen from 4.8 percent to 6.2 percent.

But unemployment was much higher than 4.8 percent when Walker took office. And the trend since then has been down, not up.

Rates are down

Asked for evidence to back the claim, Zepecki did not cite numbers from the start of Walker’s tenure. He told us that on an annual average, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was never higher than 4.8 percent during the more 2 1/2 years that Burke was commerce secretary. In contrast, Zepecki said, the monthly rate under Walker has never been below 6.2 percent.

We reviewed monthly figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency cited in the ad.

-- When Burke served as state commerce secretary -- February 2005 to November 2007 -- Wisconsin's unemployment rate was steady. It started at 4.8 percent, hit a high of 4.9 percent in June 2007 and went as low as 4.6 percent, which was the rate when she left.

-- After Burke left the commerce post, unemployment rose, and later dropped, during the rest of Doyle’s second term as governor. The rate peaked three times at 9.2 percent, including as late as January 2010, then eventually fell to 7.8 percent in December 2010, Doyle’s final full month in office.

-- Under Walker, the highest unemployment rate has been 7.7 percent -- including in January 2011, the month he took office. Since then, the rate has gradually trended downward, with a bump up here and there, to a low of 6.3 percent in December 2013, the latest month available.

(A footnote: The state Department of Workforce Development had reported the December 2013 rate one notch lower, at 6.2 percent. A spokesman for the state agency told us the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics revised the figure to 6.3 percent after the state agency announced its number.)

So, without stating any comparison between Burke and Walker, the ad claims unemployment is higher under Walker and provides figures indicating an increase from 4.8 percent to 6.2 percent. But the rate was much higher than 4.8 percent when Walker took office and it has gone down, not up, during his tenure.

Our rating

Burke's said that "under Walker, unemployment’s up," from 4.8 percent to 6.2 percent.

Burke defends the claim by saying 4.8 percent is a reference to when she served as state commerce secretary, which was several years before Walker became governor. But the ad gives no indication that that is the comparison she is making.

Moreover, during Walker’s time as governor, unemployment started at 7.7 percent, not 4.8 percent. And rather than trending upward, the rate has steadily dropped to 6.3 percent.

For a claim that is false and ridiculous, we give Burke a Pants on Fire.

To comment on this item, go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s web page.

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Our Sources

YouTube, Mary Burke "Record" TV ad, March 5, 2014

Mary Burke, news release, March 5, 2014

Email interview, Mary Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki, March 5, 2014

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, monthly unemployment rates for Wisconsin through December 2013

Republican Governors Association, news release, March 5, 2014

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, news release, Jan. 29, 2014

Email interview, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development communications director John Dipko, March 5, 2014

Email interview, Wisconsin Republican Party press secretary Jesse Dougherty, March 5, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker says success in office reflected in 2-point drop in unemployment rate from time he decided to run for governor," June 16, 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State unemployment rate drops to 6.3% in November," Dec. 19, 2013


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Democratic challenger Mary Burke says Wisconsin unemployment has increased under Gov. Scott Walker

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