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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Cherry-Picking Season in Illinois

Republican Bruce Rauner falsely claims in a TV ad that Illinois leads the Midwest in “job losses” under Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. In fact, Illinois has experienced job growth — albeit small — since Quinn took office.

The Illinois governor’s race is one of the most closely watched in the nation. Rauner, a businessman, is making a strong bid to defeat Quinn, a former lieutenant governor who was elevated to the top spot on Jan. 29, 2009, when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was removed from office. Real Clear Politics, which aggregates polling data, shows Rauner up by 2.7 percentage points with less than four months to the November general election. The race is considered a “toss up” by the Cook Political Report.

Rauner’s latest TV ad, titled “Remember This,” shows Quinn promising to create 400,000 jobs and then cuts to a narrator who says: “Under Quinn Illinois leads the Midwest in job losses.” Those same words are superimposed over an image of an empty warehouse that emphasizes the “job losses.” But the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which the ad cites as the source of this claim, shows Illinois had 5,803,600 total non-farm jobs in January 2009, when Quinn took office, and had 5,804,000 in May 2014, which is the most recent month with available employment data. That represents a net gain of 400 total jobs under Quinn as governor.

Certainly, 400 jobs in a state as large as Illinois (population 12.9 million) is not a lot. In fact, we calculate that the state had the lowest job growth during that period of the 12 states considered to be part of the Midwest by the BLS. Still, Illinois saw total job gains, not losses, and the state’s unemployment rate is down from 8 percent to 7.5 percent under Quinn.

How did the Rauner campaign arrive at “job losses”? By cherry-picking BLS data.

According to a document provided by the Rauner campaign to support the ad, the “job losses” claim refers to a drop in private sector jobs only in 2014 — a five-month period — not Quinn’s entire time in office. The campaign document says that Illinois has lost more than 26,000 private sector jobs so far in this calendar year. That’s accurate. Illinois had 4,996,800 private sector jobs in December 2013 and that number has shrunk to 4,970,500 in May 2014, a loss of 26,300 jobs. The Rauner campaign also is correct in saying that this is the largest job loss of any state in the Midwest during this period.

But the ad doesn’t say — so viewers don’t know — that the ad is referring to job losses only for 2014 and only in the private sector.

If we were to consider just private sector jobs, Illinois has gained 23,700 jobs since Quinn took office. That still ranks Illinois at the bottom of job growth when comparing it with the 11 other Midwestern states. But, again, it is a job gain, not a job loss.

The TV ad makes its claim about “job losses” immediately after viewers hear the governor promising to create 400,000 jobs. Quinn made that statement about a $31 billion economic recovery plan that he signed into law in July 2009. That statewide stimulus plan promised to create and retain “over 439,000 jobs over the next six years” through public works projects, such as road construction, school repairs and park improvements. Since July 2009, Illinois has added 179,900 total jobs.

It would be fair for the Rauner campaign to say that current job growth is well below what Quinn promised. It also would be fair to say that, under Quinn, Illinois has the lowest job growth in the 12-state Midwest region, and its unemployment rate is well above the national average of 6.1 percent.

Instead, the Rauner campaign cherry-picks job statistics from a five-month period to make a false claim and compounds its deception by using a powerful image of a vacant warehouse to illustrate “job losses.” The campaign — and voters — would be better served if it just stuck to the facts.

— Carolyn Fante and Eugene Kiely