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By Sarah Hauer July 27, 2015

Scott Walker says under his leadership incomes are up in Wisconsin, while they are down in US

As he pursues his 2016 presidential bid, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is trying to show Americans they would be better off under his leadership than under President Barack Obama.

In a July 21, 2015 tweet, Walker argued that by at least one measure, people in Wisconsin are better off than nationally.

"Under Walker, Wisconsin’s median household income +2.7% - Under Obama: -1.3%. RT if you prefer #Walker16"

At the end of the tweet, Walker linked to a New York Post article titled, "How workers are winning in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin," written by Fox News contributor Deroy Murdock.

The article cites the "latest Census statistics" that show even after adjusting for inflation, the average household income in Wisconsin has grown since Walker took office, while across the nation incomes fell in the same time frame.

In October 2014, we fact checked a claim from Democrat Mary Burke -- Walker’s gubernatorial opponent -- that under Walker’s policies, "the typical Wisconsin family has actually seen their real income drop by nearly $3,000 in the last four years."

At that time, we found that median household income in Wisconsin had fallen $2,743 from 2009 to 2013. But most of the drop in income occurred before Walker took office -- in the last year of Democrat Jim Doyle’s term -- while Burke attributed the decrease solely to the Walker’s policies We rated the claim Mostly False.

So, what about Walker’s claim that median household income is on the rise?

Behind the numbers

Walker and the New York Post article are both citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, a primary source of labor force statistics. Once a year, that monthly survey includes more detailed questions about income.

From 2010 to 2013 the average household income in Wisconsin increased from $53,795 to $55,258 -- a 2.7 percent change -- and fell across the nation 1.3 percent. That mirrors what Walker tweeted.

But there is more to the story.

Census Bureau officials say that while the Current Population Survey is fine for the national picture, a separate survey with a larger sample size -- the American Community Survey -- provides the best picture of what is happening at the state level.

The larger sample size means a smaller sampling error.

These results paint a different picture for the average Wisconsin household, showing incomes falling, even after accounting for inflation. (Note: In the chart below, we use the American Community Survey for both the state and national numbers. The national ones generally track with the Current Population Survey, the measuring stick Walker cited.)



Wisconsin median income (in 2013 dollars)

% change

National median income (in 2013 dollars)

% change



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This time, incomes in Wisconsin and nationally faced a similar fate, falling 1.62 percent and 1.72 percent, respectively. Both the drops were noted as statistically significant by the Census Bureau.

In any case, they point to a far different outcome than what Walker touted.

Our rating

Walker said under his leadership, "Wisconsin median household income" is up 2.7 percent and down 1.3 percent nationally under Obama.

He pointed to data from the Current Population Survey. But the data considered more accurate -- from the American Community Survey -- showed the opposite.

We rate statements that contain some element of truth but ignore critical facts that would give a different impression as Mostly False.

That fits here.

Our Sources

U.S. Census Bureau, How the Census Bureau measures income and poverty, Sept. 10, 2014

Politifact, Mary Burke says Walker at fault for nearly $3,000 drop in incomes, Oct. 17, 2014.

Email exchange with Jim McGibany, executive associate dean and professor of economics, College of Business Administration, Marquette University.

U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2014.

U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2014.

New York Post, How workers are winning in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, July, 17, 2015.

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More by Sarah Hauer

Scott Walker says under his leadership incomes are up in Wisconsin, while they are down in US

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