WALKER BUDGET 9

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, applauds during Gov. Scott Walker's budget address in the Assembly chamber at the State Capitol, in Madison, on Tuesday, February 3, 2015. photo by Michelle Stocker

MICHELLE STOCKER

Gov. Scott Walker likely will have to try to explain on the presidential campaign trail why he thinks Wisconsin's jobs picture is better than the national and regional rankings show.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch may have given a preview of the strategy in an interview that aired Sunday on WKOW-TV's "Capitol City Sunday."

Host Greg Neumann noted that Walker's record as governor is likely to be part of the advertising landscape in Iowa as Walker's Republican opponents try to pick away at his lead in the polls there.

In particular, they may focus on Wisconsin ranking 35th nationally and 10th of 10 Midwestern states in private-sector job growth rate in the period that roughly equates to Walker's first four-year term.

Wisconsin added 129,154 private-sector jobs between December 2010 and December 2014 in data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. That's a change of 5.69 percent.

But Kleefisch said she takes issue with that reporting.

"It's based on the speed with which jobs are created in comparison to neighbors as opposed to the actual number of jobs created," she said. "So I think you're going to see the governor trying to explain that."

Because of differences in population between the states, job growth rankings are generally presented in terms of percentage change. For the sake of argument, however, the 129,154 jobs added put Wisconsin 23rd nationally and seventh among the 10 Midwestern states in the number of jobs added.

California, the state with the highest population, added the most in that four-year period.

Kleefisch explained her reasoning with an example.

"If you measure two kids in a class, and if you have Wisconsin and Michigan sitting in a class, taking this class on economic development, and in the very beginning of the school year, they both score a D, things aren't looking good for the economic prospects of either one of these students in this class," she said. "But by the end of the semester, things are changed.

"Well, now imagine if you have those two students in the class, Michigan and Wisconsin. And Michigan's getting a D, which it clearly was. I would put, honestly, Michigan, with the failure of the autos, at about an F. Wisconsin was getting a C. But at the end of the semester, if they're both at a B, who did better?"

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Others have also made the argument that Wisconsin didn't have as many lost jobs to make up, leading to a lower job growth rate.

Michigan, for instance, lost 380,335 jobs from December 2006 to December 2010 (a 10.54 percent drop). It then added 368,371 jobs in the next four years (an 11.41 percent gain).

Wisconsin lost 133,943 jobs from December 2006 to December 2010.

Kevin Quinn, a St. Norbert College economics professor who noted to Wisconsin Public Radio in March that the state didn't feel as much of an impact from the recession as some other Midwest states, also said that Wisconsin has been going through a "very 'meh' recovery."

That may be what Walker has to overcome when discussing the economics of his state on a national platform.

"To have to spend that valuable 30 seconds and the money on it, that's going to be something that the governor is going to have to go out there and explain in very simple terms," Kleefisch said, "in order for people to understand that a ranking and a rate are two separate things and help people to get why Wisconsin has fully recovered from the recession, why we have more jobs today than we did before, why our unemployment rate is at 4.6 percent when it was at 9.2 percent.

"These are all really extraordinary facts and statistics, but you need to make sure that you're putting them in the proper context. I think he's going to be able to do that because he was able to do that with great success in 2014 when we had our reelection."

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Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.