Every generation has its moment where an older politician brings the fire and brimstone and plays cultural Moses....
When he ran for governor in 2010, Scott Walker vowed to create 250,000 jobs in his first term. But he must be regretting that promise today.
- Wisconsin retains a job deficit of 156,300 according to the Center on Wisconsin Strategies, a progressive think-tank at UW-Madison. That deficit includes 71,900 jobs lost since the recession plus an additional 84,400 jobs needed to keep pace with population growth.
- Wisconsin ranked 44th in private-sector job growth even by the economic measure selectively used by Walker, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Wisconsin fell from 41st and 37th in the previous two quarterly reports.
- While wages for US workers fell 1.1% last year, the situation in Wisconsin was even worse, with wages falling at double that rate, a loss of 2.2%. This wage decrease heightens growing inequality in Wisconsin: "Between 1996 and 2010, the bottom 40 percent of Wisconsin earners experienced an average decrease of $2,407 in their adjusted gross income, measured in 2012 dollars," according to COWS and the Wisconsin Budget Project. "The top fifth of income tax filers saw an increase in earnings of more than $17,000 over this period."
- The picture is likely to become even grimmer: Wisconsin is projected to rank 49th in job creation in the coming year, according to projections by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
These embarrassing figures can be traced back directly back to Scott Walker's policies. His budget cutbacks and his Act 10 attacks on public employees' right to union representation resulted in layoffs, massive cuts in take-home pay for those still on the job, and record numbers of retirements, with few of the vacancies being filled. Wisconsin has thus been hurt by a loss of about 15,000 public-sector jobs, said economist Laura Dresser of the COWS think tank, plus the ripple effect of reduced spending power.
Walker also bears responsibility for turning down two badly needed injections of federal funding: $870 million for a high-speed rail project between Milwaukee and Madison and a stunningly $12 billion over 10 years in Medicaid funding to implement the Affordable Care Act.
"These would have created all kinds of economic activity," observed Robert Craig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. The rail project, along with stirring economic growth in many Wisconsin communities now shut out of economic dynamism, would have directly created about 5,000 jobs.
The Medicaid funding rejected by Walker would have generated about 10,500 family-sustaining jobs in health care, according to a study by Families USA and Citizen Action.
Fundamental to Wisconsin's economic woes are the Walker-led attacks on the public sector and the resulting loss of purchasing power.
But Walker and his supporters won't cop to this. Instead, they dodge it with the following four maneuvers.
- Walker and his GOP allies hail improvement in Wisconsin's "business climate" rankings by business publications. But these rankings are contrived devices that prize corporate tax breaks and bear no relation to actual economic performance -- like ranking 44th in actual job creation. These bogus rankings may burnish Walker's standing among Republican presidential primary donors and voters, but they are irrelevant to those trapped by the state's stagnating economy.
- The claim that Wisconsin is "over-taxed," at a time when 62% of corporations with revenues above $100 million pay no state income taxes. The "solution" to this imagined problem: eliminating any progressivity in the state's tax structure and directing over 60% of tax cuts to those earning over $100,000.
- Blaming the workers for a "skills shortage": Walker and top CEOs continue to claim that Wisconsin suffers from under-qualified workers who lack the new skills needed for 21st century business. However, two recent studies by Wisconsin scholars examining the alleged skills gap found this trend to be mythical. Summarizing the two studies, Dresser said that the these reports chiefly show that employers are simply unwilling to pay sufficient wages to attract workers to jobs like welding, where bosses claim a shortage of skilled workers exist.
Walker can spin all he wants. But he has only himself to blame for Wisconsin's bad economy.
Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based journalist whose work has appeared in, among others, The Progressive, Z Magazine, Progressive Populist, Extra!, American Prospect, Isthmus, and In These Times, for whom he blogs twice a week on labor issues at workinginthesetimes.com. Bybee edited the weekly Racine Labor for fourteen years.