Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
Last week, we compared Wisconsin's social and infrastructure policies to those of neighboring states. During Scott Walker's governorship, Wisconsin has become more politically backward as our neighbors have become more progressive. We have become an island of regressive government surrounded by a ring of forward-looking states. Today, let's do a different comparison. Let's compare our recent economic growth to that of our neighbors.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce recently did a $800k ad buy to run two pro-Walker commercials. Through careful selection of statistics and outright misrepresentation, the WMC would have us believe that Scott Walker has engineered a “Wisconsin Economic Miracle”. They try to convince us that Wisconsin leads the Midwest and the entire US in economic growth. What is the real story? How do we truly stack-up against our neighbors?
During the Mortgage-crisis recession, Wisconsin unemployment peaked at 9.2% (July 2009). By the time that our current Governor took office in January 2011, state unemployment had already fallen to 7.7 %. The latest finalized Bureau of Labor Statistics data have us at 6.8% for July 2013. That is, since Walker became governor, the state unemployment has decreased by 0.9%. Not bad, eh? It is going down. How does that compare to our neighbors?
Since January 2011, Michigan's unemployment rate fell from 11.0 to 8.8% (2.2 % decrease), Minnesota's from 6.8 to 5.2% (1.6% decrease), and Iowa's from 6.1 to 4.8 % (1.3% decrease). Only Illinois had a smaller cut in state unemployment rate than Wisconsin, with a 0.2% decrease since January 2011.
During the same time period, overall US unemployment went from 9.0% to the current 7.4%, a decrease of 1.6%. That is, since Walker took office, Wisconsin's unemployment fell at a little over half of the rate for the country as a whole. Not exactly the economic miracle some would have us believe.
OK, maybe unemployment statistics don't tell the whole story. Let's consider other economic factors. After all, we are “Open for Business”. That should account for something. Several organizations have published recent economic rankings of the states. Let's examine those.
In May 2013, business network CNBC ranked the states by economic strength. Included were factors such as growth, unemployment, the housing market, and the state government's fiscal health. By this score, Iowa ranked #5 in the country, followed by #10 Minnesota, and #26 Michigan. Trailing the Upper Midwest were #34 Wisconsin and #45 Illinois. And we aren't getting any better with Walker in charge. Our ranking is down from #22 in 2011, and is unchanged from #34 in 2012.
OK, so we don't look so good in CNBC's ranking. That might be an aberration. Let's consider more data. In September, Forbes Magazine ranked the “Best States for Business”. They considered 35 factors in six categories: business costs, labor supply, regulatory climate, economic climate, growth prospects, and quality of life.
Here is how we and our Upper Midwest brethren fared: Minnesota #8, Iowa #12, Illinois #38, Wisconsin #41, and Michigan #47. Again, we bring up the rear. And our state has not improved under Walker's leadership, as we ranked #40 in 2011 and #42 in 2012.
The same Forbes study estimated 2013 job growth for the states. Minnesota jobs will increase by 1.9%, followed by Iowa and Michigan at 1.2%, and Illinois at 0.8%. Of the Upper Midwest states, Wisconsin comes in last at 0.7% growth, a dismal 45th in the nation.
Surely someone thinks that Wisconsin is doing well during Walker's tenure. How about the US Chamber of Commerce? The organization issues an annual report, Enterprising States, ranking the climate for small businesses in each state. In their 2013 report, they have us ranked 44th in the nation for economic performance. This compares to #10 Iowa, #15 Minnesota, and #28 Illinois. Michigan brings up the rear at #50.
Despite all of the money spent on WMC ads to convince us that “it's working” in Wisconsin, most people aren't buying it. A Marquette poll published yesterday asked: "Do you think Wisconsin is creating jobs faster, about the same, or lagging behind other states in job creation?" Only 14% of people believe that we are creating jobs faster, while 40.7% know that we are lagging behind.
Wisconsin's economy is sorely under-performing those of neighboring states and the rest of the US. While we lag our neighbors, our Governor is more focused on campaigning out-of-state than working in-state to attract jobs. At a time that Wisconsin ranks in the woeful 40's in economic growth, our Chief Executive is concentrating on his new book.
Cute slogans won't do it. We deserve better. We need an active Commerce Department, not the scandal-ridden WEDC. We need a leader who makes pragmatic economic decisions, not ones based on Tea Party ideology. We deserve a Governor whose main priority is jobs in Wisconsin, not a job for himself in the White House.