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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Walker’s Economic Spin

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican candidate for president, strained the facts when he compared his state’s economic performance with that of the United States:

  • Walker said his state is “doing better than America in terms of the unemployment number going down.” That’s false. Under Walker, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has fallen, but not as quickly as the U.S. rate — in part because the state’s job growth has lagged behind the U.S. average.
  • The governor also said Wisconsin is “doing better in terms of labor participation rate.” Actually, Wisconsin’s rate under Walker has mirrored the national trend almost exactly. The state’s rate was 4.9 percentage points higher than the U.S. rate when Walker took office, and now it is 4.8 percentage points higher.

Walker made his remarks in an Aug. 29 interview with “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. NBC used clips from that interview for its Sunday show and posted the full interview on its website. His remarks on the economy, which were shown only on the website, came after Todd asked why Wisconsin isn’t faring as well economically as neighboring Minnesota. Walker said the question Todd posed is the wrong one.

Walker, Aug. 29: The difference should be how does America stand up with Wisconsin. I had an unemployment rate before I came in of over 8 percent, it’s down to 4.6 percent. We made up for all the jobs that were lost during the recession, and we have a labor participation rate – which you know is the rate at which people are working – it’s almost 5 points higher than it is nationally. … We’re doing better than America in terms of the unemployment number going down. We’re doing better in terms of labor participation rate.

Let’s first look at the unemployment rates.

When Walker became governor on Jan. 3, 2011, the state’s unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent, and the national rate was 9.3 percent. That was based on employment levels as of December 2010. So, Wisconsin’s rate was 1.2 percentage points lower than the U.S. average.

But the state’s advantage over the U.S. has shrunk by 0.5 percentage points under Walker. As of July, Wisconsin had an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, and the U.S. rate was 5.3 percent, meaning Wisconsin’s rate is now only 0.7 percentage points below the national average.

Wisconsin’s jobless rate has fallen more slowly than the national rate mainly because its job growth has been slower. From January 2011 to July 2015, the U.S. added 11,245,000 jobs, an increase of 8.6 percent, while Wisconsin has added 148,300 jobs, an increase of 5.4 percent.

As for the labor participation rate — which is the percentage of the 16-and-older population that is working or seeking work — Walker is correct that the state’s rate is “almost 5 points higher than it is nationally.” But that was the case before he became governor, and little has changed.

As of July, the U.S. labor participation rate was 62.6 percent, and the Wisconsin rate was 67.4 percent, so the state rate was 4.8 points higher. In January 2011, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the Wisconsin rate was 69.1 percent, and the U.S. rate was 64.2 percent, a difference of 4.9 percentage points.

During Walker’s time in office, Wisconsin’s rate has fallen by 1.7 percentage points, while the U.S. rate declined by 1.6 points. There’s not much difference there.

— Eugene Kiely