THE CAP TIMES: Unemployment Spikes Under Walker, GOP

July 31, 2011
John Nichols



Under Gov. Scott Walker’s “leadership,” unemployment is increasing in Wisconsin at twice the rate it is nationally.

Before Walker took office, Wisconsin was tackling the jobs crisis more effectively than most other states. Now, as Walker puts his imprint on the state, the unemployment rate is increasing.

This represents a dangerous reversal of pattern for Wisconsin.

After George W. Bush’s misguided economic policies steered the country into recession during the final years of his presidency, unemployment in Wisconsin rose. By early 2009, Wisconsin’s jobless rate had hit a staggering 9.4 percent.

Roughly parallel to the national unemployment rate, the figure for Wisconsin was at a 27-year high — the worst since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

But Wisconsin officials moved quickly to address fiscal and economic challenges. It was not easy, and their approaches were not always popular. But the steps they took had a dramatic impact.

In the face of severe budget shortfalls, legislative Joint Finance Committee Co-chairs Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Mark Miller, D-Monona, made tough but responsible choices in order to deliver a balanced state budget. They even had to wrangle some with Gov. Jim Doyle, a fellow Democrat. But the state got itself on course and invested wisely in infrastructure, job development and retraining.

The commitments worked. While the national unemployment rate remained shockingly high — around 9 percent — Wisconsin’s employment picture steadily improved.

When Walker took charge in January of this year, the state’s unemployment rate stood at 7.4 percent, well below the national average.

Then Walker and the new Republican majorities in the Assembly and Senate began providing tax breaks to out-of-state corporations, attacking state employees, proposing deep cuts for education and state services, and undermining the ability of town governments and school boards to manage their own affairs.

Walker and his allies have created precisely the sort of uncertainty — some would say “chaos” — that causes responsible business owners to think twice when making decisions about whether to hire.

In recent months, Wisconsin’s unemployment has ticked up to 7.6 percent. It’s up three-tenths of a percent since April.

When the national jobless figures came out this month, The Capital Times criticized President Obama for neglecting the nation’s unemployment crisis. We noted that the U.S. unemployment rate had risen by one-tenth of 1 percent in June. And we argued that things were headed in the wrong direction.

But in Wisconsin, the unemployment rate was up two-tenths of 1 percent. That’s twice the rate of increase at the national level.

Walker is steering the state in the wrong direction.

The biggest problem with Walker’s policies is that they have not been checked and balanced by responsible legislators. The Senate and Assembly have served as nothing more than a rubber stamp for the governor’s job-killing agenda. Recall elections on Aug. 9 will allow Wisconsinites to replace as many as six of the rubber-stamp senators and shift control of the Legislature’s upper chamber. That won’t necessarily reverse the damage that Walker has already done to the state’s economy, but it could prevent him from doing any more harm.