Monday, April 1, 2013

New lows for Wisconsin jobs disaster pt. 2- Unemployment

This is a follow up to the post I made over the weekend discussing the latest bad jobs numbers in Wisconsin. This time, I wanted to take a look at a stat the Badger state has generally looked good in compared to the rest of the nation- the unemployment rate. Unfortunately, this is another stat where we are faring poorly compared to other states during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

The  February jobs report included an increase in the state's unemployment rate to 7.2% from 7.0% in January. It went against the U.S. trend, which had unemployment fall from 7.9% to 7.7%, and we'll see where it stands when the March numbers come out on Friday.

It also goes against the positive trend this state had before Scott Walker and WisGOP came to power in 2011. Wisconsin was able to hold its own compared to its neighbors during the Great Recession, as it never reached 10% unemployment like Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio did. But it did have a bad go of it from June 2008 to June 2009, as our unemployment rate went from 4.5% to 9.2%. During that time, Barack Obama was elected president and Democrats took control of both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature, which meant that they had to deal with the huge budget deficit that resulted from the financial crisis and Great Recession.

The Democrats' budget was signed by Governor Doyle in June 2009, and Wisconsinhad higher unemployment than 30 other states, at 9.2%. The 4.7% increase over the previous 12 months was also  the 7th-highest rise in the U.S. That trend needed to stop, and quickly. And for the rest of the time that Doyle and the Dems were in power, it did.

    Wisconsin unemployment under Doyle/Dem control
     January 2009 7.1%
     June 2009 9.2% (31st lowest in U.S., +4.7% last 12 months)
     Jan 2010 9.2% (29th lowest, +2.1% last 12 mos.)
     June 2010 8.4% (25th lowest, -0.8% last 12 mos., 7th-biggest drop)
     Jan 2011 7.7% (18th lowest, -1.5% last 12 mos., 5th-biggest drop)

So Scott Walker and WisGOP entered office with Wisconsin's unemployment falling, and relatively low. And after holding steady compared to the rest of the country for the first year-and-a-half, the state's unemployment stats have turned bad since June's recall election.

  Wisconsin unemployment rate under Walker/ WisGOP control
    Jan 2011 7.7% (18th lowest, -1.5% last 12 mos.)
    June 2011 7.7% (21st lowest, -0.7% last 12 mos.)- Walker signs budget
    Jan 2012 7.0% (17th lowest, -0.7% last 12 mos.)
    June 2012 7.0% (17th lowest, -0.7% last 12 mos.) Walker wins recall election
    Feb 2013 7.2% (23rd lowest, +0.3 last 12 mos., 6th-biggest RISE in U.S)

A chart showing Wisconsin's rank in lowest unemployment rates among states also bears this out.


All these numbers come from the BLS's handy interactive search tool on state unemployment rates, which you can use at your leisure to put numbers together. I highly recommend it when you want to compare state-vs. state.

It's also worth mentioning that any lowering of unemployment in the first 18 months of Walker's term probably has little to do with what's happening in Wisconsin, and instead reflects the improving national economy. This is in stark contrast to what happened under the Doyle-Dem budget, as Wisconsin's increase in unemployment stopped in mid-2009, months ahead of the U.S., and also fell faster than the U.S. rate throughout 2010. That trend has reversed in the last 12 months.


Look at how the gap between the U.S. and Wisconsin's unemployment rates have shrunk in the last 2 years. When Walker and WisGOP took control in January 2011, Wisconsin had an unemployment rate 1.4% lower than the U.S. That gap is barely more than 1/3 that amount today, at 0.5%.

So if you hear right-wing loudmouths still trying to give Scott Walker credit for "holding Wisconsin's unemployment under the national average," the simple response is "He didn't build that." In fact, the Fitzwalkerstan era is erasing Wisconsin's longtime advantage of lower unemployment, and may soon cause the state to reside in the bottom half of U.S states in that statistic. It is yet another failure that you can hang on these guys, and much like with the total jobs figures, there is little reason to believe this bad unemployment trend will start beating the national average anytime soon.


  1. (The link for the map is and the state data for March are out on the 18th, just the national data are out this Friday).

    I think that the unemployment rate is generally over-emphasized as a measure of how things are going, simply because it can rise for good reasons (discouraged job seekers becoming encouraged again and rejoining the labor force as the unemployed) as well as bad ones (employment turning into unemployment).

    In Wisconsin's case, between January 2011 and February 2013 unemployment dropped by 17,964. But only 7,541 of that total is due to more people finding employment - the other 10,423 is due to people becoming discouraged from looking for work, so the unemployment drop is 42/58 good news/bad news.

    In the nation's case over the same time period, unemployment dropped by 1,960,000. Of that, 4,239,000 is due to higher employment and -2,280,000 to worker encouragement. So it's a good news/bad news mix of 216%/-116%, a far more dramatic difference than a headline unemployment rate comparison shows.

    Another way of looking at things is the ratio of civilian employment to noninstitutional population (i.e. everyone who is over 16 who isn't in prison or in the military), which in Wisconsin from Jan 2011 - Feb 2013 has dropped from 63.6% to 63.1% ( while the national rate rose from 58.3% to 58.6% (

  2. I was going to go over the drop in labor force, which reflects people retiring and leaving the state. But the post was running long anyway.

    But I certainly think a post on the labor force changes could be in the near future, because if Wisconsin labor force was growing like it is in the U.S. and our neighboring states, we'd be looking at an unemployment rate closer to 7.5% or 8.0% right now.

    1. If Wisconsin's labor force had grown at the same rate as the nation's from January 2011 to February 2013 (+1.5%) it would be 3,113,508 by this point.

      With February 2013 employment at 2,838,397, we would have an unemployment rate of 8.8%.

      Over this period of time the civilian noninstitutional population (CNP) has grown nationally by 2.5% (so the labor force participation rate has dropped even while the employment ratio has grown - the former being expected to some degree because of demographic changes).

      Concurrently Wisconsin's CNP has grown by 1.2%, so one's expectations for our labor force growth wouldn't be as high as the nation's though still positive. Despite this, the labor force participation rate has shrunk, propping up the much better-publicized unemployment rate in the process even though the employment ratio is shrinking.

  3. The rate of those people who are jobless and seeking for job is different from those people who are jobless and discourage to seek for job.

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