The Jobs Numbers Gambit

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

We’re told by the Democrats that collective bargaining is not the reason for the recall elections. Democratic spokesman Graeme Zielinski told Mother Jones magazine that collective bargaining is not a winning issue. “Collective bargaining is not moving people,” he said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, recently declared that good news about the success of Act 10 was, “a distraction.”

A distraction from what? According to a recent poll by Marquette University Law School, the number one issue on everyone’s mind is jobs. Among Democrats, 46% said new job creation was their number one issue. Restoring collective bargaining privileges for state employees was only the top issue for 12%.

Perhaps anticipating such a mood, perhaps reflecting focus group research, perhaps just looking for anything on which Governor Scott Walker might be vulnerable, Wisconsin’s Democrats have grasped the reins on the job issue hoping to ride it to victory. A little over a month from now we’ll see if the jobs issue carried the Democrats first across the finish line or if it was a long shot that finished out of the money.

Barrett even said of Walker’s performance, “This isn’t a record to brag about – it’s a record that causes failed governors to be tossed from office.” Interesting considering that under Mayor Barrett, Milwaukee’s unemployment rate in March (not seasonally adjusted) was 10.4%.

It’s also interesting to watch Barrett already conducting a performance review of Governor Scott Walker after only sixteen months in office, when the standard appraisal time is four years. ‘Tis the nature of recalls and their shifting rationale. Plans were afoot to recall Walker even before he took office, before any of Walker’s policies could be implemented. Now we’re in the ex post facto stage of recall justification. Having decided now jobs is the standard, we might question if Barrett’s judgment is premature.

After all, the person most responsible for asking Barrett to run for governor two years ago, President Barack Obama, would certainly not keep his employment under the Barrett standard, and that’s after nearly a full four-year term.

Under President Obama, national unemployment is at 8.1%, well above Wisconsin’s rate. Of course, the numbers are even worse nationally if labor participation rates are taken into account. According to the Washington Post, if the same percentage of adults were participating in the available workforce as when Obama took office, the national unemployment rate would be an astonishing 11.1%.

However, applying the Barrett standard of when a public official should be evaluated on his performance, we would have to wonder why Barrett did not call for the impeachment of Obama long before now. At roughly the same point in Obama’s term in office (April 2010) that we are at now with Walker’s term in office, unemployment was at 9.8%. That was over a year after the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed into law, the federal stimulus spending that was supposed to prevent unemployment from going so high.

It’s probably safe to bet that Barrett probably didn’t add an “Impeach Obama” bumper sticker to his car at the time.

Coincidentally in April 2010, Wisconsin was under the complete control of the Democratic Party. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 8.5%. During the previous 16 months Wisconsin lost 155,000 jobs.

It was that record that contributed directly to the voters deciding to reject the Democrats in both houses of the legislature and in the governor’s mansion, choosing to follow a different fiscal policy altogether.

It’s cliché that timing in politics is everything. The state is up 15,600 private sector jobs this year. A survey by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce earlier this year said 94% of Wisconsin CEOs believe Wisconsin is headed in the right direction and 44% plan on hiring this year. But according to the Business Journal, many Wisconsin employers are holding back because of the recall elections.

Now that Act 10 and its successes are no longer the cause of the recall, Democrats had to wager on something else. With a month left to go, we’ll soon learn whose bet on the economy will pay off.

Wigderson in an award-winning columnist from Waukesha, Wisconsin.